Edge of the Lake watercolor 14″ x 22″
If you read a lot of current art magazines no doubt you will run across the term “Plein Aire”. Basically, it means to paint outdoors. Seems the trend these days. In fact some say that it is one of the fastest growing movements in painting. The question comes what really constitutes plein aire painting? Does it mean that every stroke is completed on site or is there room for making adjustments in the studio? Well the answer is it all depends upon whom you ask. Personally, I got into the habit of painting outdoors in art school many decades ago. It was the belief that painting outdoors was the best way to capture a moment. In some ways that is true. However, painting outside has its own challenges . While I recommend it highly I must confess that it poses often unpredictable situations. The obstacles can run the gamut from uninvited critics, fickle breezes, sudden gusts of high wind, insects and aggressive animals of all sorts and so on. Then one must consider the fact that the sun does not stand still. In fact, the light and color can change about every 2 seconds. For a beginner the list may sound formidable. However all of these things can be over come. Some require tact while others require proper preparation. Perhaps the biggest challenge is what to leave in and what to leave out. In short, proper editing. Wait that sounds like writing. Well. yes it does. However, visual editing for the painter is of the utmost importance.
The photo below was taken in my backyard, outside my fence. Two new houses have been built so my favorite spot is no longer available. Perhaps at some point I can introduce myself to my new neighbors and get back to the original vantage. At any rate perhaps you can pick out the essence of this photo that was the inspiration for “Edge of the Lake.”
This is a beautiful place with all sorts of movement of shapes and color. I will return to it from time to time to explore all of its possibilities. You may not have a lake in your backyard but no doubt you have unlimited possibilities that you can explore. The mood changes with the light and the seasons. Overcast skies, bright blue sunny skies; all make for tremendous opportunities . Our first year here it snowed several inches. My wife used to get a kick out of me whenever it snowed. That beautiful white blanket turns everything into a magical wonderland and I just had to do my best to capture it. She would say that I was worse than a kid when it started snowing. There is just something special about it. For my Pennsylvania and New England friends they don’t always share my enthusiasm but then snow for us is a rare treat.
Photo: Lake Cyrus taken with my iphone.
I do make use of a camera but I refuse to become a slave to it. Long ago I trained my self to remember shapes, light and color. Sadly at times photos destroy my inner vision. That is why I am very careful with them. Pick out the strong features and discard the rest of the visual clutter. One of the best teachers is FAILURE. When you hit a wall; analyze the problem and then work around it. At times you will find numerous sketches on my studio floor. Often the failures are glaring. I just pick up another sheet of paper and start drawing again. Small thumbnail sketches are great for developing the shapes of the design but larger sketches produce refinement of image. Not every painting gets the same attention. Some are very spontaneous while others require more planning. Let the spirit guide you.
Want to know more about watercolor glazing techniques ?
Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor by Dr. Don Rankin is available at
Geneal M. Rankin June 1944- January 2019
A number of you have wondered why this site has been vacant. For the past 27 months my wife was seriously ill. Geneal suffered from complications of Type II Diabetes. She had been diabetic for a number of years. Finally the complications began to pile up with her suffering complete kidney failure that led to dialysis. At first we trained for home dialysis and that worked for about 18 months. In May of 2018 that suddenly failed and we had to go to Hemo-dialysis. The complications continued with amputations and a series of surgeries. Our battle was over on January 24.
I chose this picture of a happier time when two beautiful strangers graced our deck for part of a day. Sasha and Sitka decided to leave their fenced in back yard. Someone left the gate open! After about two days of wandering they swam the creek and came knocking, literally, on our front door. We decided to bring them into our backyard with our two dogs. Praying that no one would claim them, we knew we had to call the local vets. Sure enough their owner came around later that day.
I will resume posting paintings soon
Meanwhile you can see work at don_rankin_watercolor.com on Instagram.
Morning Mist, Boundary Waters 22″ x 30″ watercolor
The older I get the more memories I tend to paint. I did some of my final graduate research work in the Boundary Waters not far from Ely, Minnesota. My mode of transportation was by canoe and hiking. Ever carried a three man canoe up a steep cliff? It can be exhilarating! That is, if you don’t fall. In those days we could portage and paddle into Canada; no questions asked. 9/11 changed a lot of things. These days my travel is limited but my sketchbook is full.
We would take turns paddling and dead heading. Dead heading was the term we used for the fellow in the middle who sat while the other two worked the bow and stern. I got a lot done when it was my time to rest. I had plenty of water all around and my small travel kit of paints and brushes. Now I find myself poring over old sketches and photos from those days. Time has acted as a filter and helps distill the images I recall so well.
Maybe the color is a bit more intense or maybe I’m a little more generous with it these days. I still have other images to refine. Imagine, if you will, leaning against the trunk of a pine tree, peering over the edge of a stone cliff at a sea of blueberries glowing in the dappled light of the sun. I can still see those berries. Thankfully, at this stage I don’t have to concern myself with momma bear who would bring her cubs to dine on the succulent treasures. I’m not sure which one of us liked the wild berries more.
This tree in this painting, like an old friend, was one of our sentinels that marked our way and let us know we were nearing camp on our return. I hope it is still standing. It stood on the far side of the lake adjacent to our camp site. These days I’m living on another lake and I am blessed to enjoy the ever changing light and the glow of evening as well as morning. These are the subjects that lend themselves so well to multiple layers of watercolor washes.
Want to know more about watercolor glazing techniques?
Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor, Vol I by Dr. Don Rankin is available direct from the artist at www.createspace.com/3657628. A revised edition of the original classic.
On-line classes coming soon on a new platform:
The new classes will be available in two versions. Students will be able to choose to participate in a fully interactive version or a view only version. We are in the editing phase of all new content. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions.
Morning Mist 20″ x 15″ watercolor
I have always loved quality watercolor paper. Without it I would be lost. Ruscombe Mills handmade paper in 300gsm (140Lb.) cold press is nothing new for me. However, this batch of Joshua Cristall historical paper is a new adventure. Morning Mist was my second attempt on this sheet. I’ll show my first try in a moment. I am accustomed to painting with fairly controlled washes where I can predict and/or manipulate the effects on the surface. Well, this paper gave me some surprises. Now I don’t consider this to be a bad thing. All of us need a challenge to wake us up.
This paper has a high linen content and I am told that there is also a measure of hemp in the sheets I ordered. The paper is beautiful and while I have stated unpredictable; I need to clarify my comments. Remember this is handmade paper and is a bit different from previous batches I have ordered. In this case it behaves as if one side of the paper reacts like a hot pres sheet while the other side acts like a cold press surface. Morning Mist was executed on the side that reacts like a cold press surface. The color hold out is quite good and while there are a few layers of glazing washes; a great deal of the approach was direct and spontaneous while some of the grass texture is dry brush. The foggy areas are the result of wet ‘n wet washes and you can see them crop up in numerous places in the back ground and foreground. The highlight of the lake surface is the pure white of the paper.
I really like the effects this paper produces and can’t wait to start another group of paintings. While moving my studio I found some old sketches from 1968! My wife accuses me of being a pack rat. At any rate I have some canal sketches and one intriguing group of the gondola factory that was on a less traveled portion of Venice. I was 25 years old and fresh out of art school when we arrived in Italy. In Venice I walked and sketched some of the areas that John Singer Sargent captured in watercolor. I never painted from the sketches but I think now I am ready to give it a try.
Cat on hot press side 20″ x 15″ Watercolor
At the time I painted this I really didn’t like it too much. I’m still not wild about it but I am showing it for a reason. This sheet is the other half of the sheet that was used for Morning Mist. This was the first attempt I referred to earlier in this post. This was the flip side of the paper, the side that exhibited “hot press” tendencies. One particular thing that will immediately stand out is the texture of brush stroke in the background. Hot press papers tend to show brush strokes and pose a bit of a challenge with layered washes for the previous wash will often lift very easily. When I was learning to paint egg tempera I was required to paint on hot press and plate finish paper. The reasoning was that properly prepared traditional gesso (not the commercial acrylic kind) presented a very smooth surface. One had to learn to deal with the crawl of ink wash on the smooth surface. In actual practice I’m not so sure that it is a really big deal. However, that is the way we were taught.
On the plus side the color is very vibrant. I’ll be playing with this surface some more. Both sides of the Joshua Cristall paper invite a lot of spontaneity. I really like having the paper on hand. If you are a watercolor painter you might want to give it a try. I know I plan to always have plenty of Ruscombe Mills paper on hand.
On line classes: NEW PLATFORM
Some of you may know that for several years I have been conducting on line watercolor classes. Those offerings have been pretty successful with over 500 students. One limitation is/was limited interaction with students. As I get older I prefer to have more painting time. In spite of that I still enjoy sharing watercolor. I am just curious about how many of you would be interested in an interactive on line class. This would involve each student being able to post their work and for me to comment and to do impromptu demonstrations of various visual problems. Sort of like taking requests. Students would be able to post privately or perhaps post publicly for all enrolled students to see and learn from written critique. The contact hours would be set on a given schedule and the numbers would be limited.
I realize that this is a vague outline but send me an email if you think you would be interested in such a program.
Interested in knowing more about the watercolor glazing technique?
Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor by Dr. Don Rankin is available direct at www.createspace.com/3657628 . A revised and updated edition of the original classic.
The Antique Shop: remastered DVD of an onsite study painting demo with brief tutorial www.createspace.com/350893
Taffy II, watercolor 35″ x 25″ unframed
A lot has happened since my last post. I’ll not bore you with all of the details, except to say I have a new studio, not yet fully operational, recovering from two surgeries, a new home and a new email provider. Taffy II is an older work that has never been publicly exhibited nor offered for sale. Why you may ask? Well it just wasn’t. Taffy was the first of many cats to grace our home and she was very special. In fact, all of our pets, cats and dogs, have been individual family members; all with their own unique personality. I recently posted a shot of the painting on my Instagram site. Ms. Barbara Moore of Barbara Moore Fine Art Gallery in Chadds Ford, PA saw it and requested that I send it to her. So if you are in or around downtown Chadds Ford be sure to drop in.
New Gallery/ Familiar Faces:
I have known Barbara for quite a while, dating back to 1985 as I recall. Barbara was Director of the Chadds Ford Gallery in Chadds Ford and has over 40 years experience in specializing in Wyeth works. She recently opened her own gallery and will be hosting her usual Christmas in Miniature exhibition carrying on the tradition. If my memory serves me correctly she is the lady who inaugurated the Christmas in Miniature Exhibitions that seem to be popular across the country these days. The exhibition will open on the evening of November 29, 1-8 PM. The Gallery is located at 1609 Baltimore Pike, Chadds Ford, PA. (barbaramoorefineart.com Tel 484-776-5174.
Five Miniatures of mine will be shown:
Paradise Creek..AKA Marley’s Place
Old Hackberry Lane
Callie in Sunlight
All five pieces are framed ready for hanging. Framed and matted they measure around 14″ x 12″. Feel free to contact Barbara for more details.
Want to know more about watercolor glazing techniques? Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor, Vol 1 by Dr. Don Rankin is a revised updated version of the original best selling book published by Watson-Guptill. Available at http://www.createspace.com/3657628
2017 Recipient of the Marquis Who’s Who Lifetime Achievement in Art and Art Education
Have you ever noticed that some watercolors by the same artist have a different look or impact? While there are many possible variables there is one element that can have a profound impact on the effect. All else being equal, that is the same quality paint and brushes, the choice of paper can really change the dynamic. Most painters paint upon either cold press or rough watercolor paper. A few adventurous souls work on hot press and/or plate surface paper. What is the difference? Basically, one is more absorbent than the other. Hot press and especially plate surface or finish paper is slick. The moisture and the paint have a tendency to crawl and creep across the paper rather than blooming or blossoming across the paper in the usual expected way. A slick surface brings on a whole new series of effect. Some of it can be quite magical while for some painters the whole thing becomes a nightmare.
My first encounter with the idea of painting watercolor on a less absorbent paper surface came about while learning to paint with egg tempera. While the gesso ground for traditional egg tempera is absorbent to a degree; it can be modified by the degree of polish one produces on the surface during the layering of the gesso. By the way this is NOT the canned gesso you buy in most art supply stores. Traditional gesso is a mixture of hide glue and and ground chalk with or without pigment and requires a rigid support to prevent cracking. Very often beginning painters develop their painting skills on plate finish papers using watercolor washes. After a few maddening hours, if the student is willing, they began to see some intriguing results.
I would encourage any watercolor painter to work with hot press and plate finish papers and boards for the effect that can be achieved. Yes, it is different. I’m going to share a few examples of watercolor on hot press boards. I keep a decent supply of the paper in my studio for those times when I want to get a different feel to a subject. Often the color is brighter and more vibrant. The reason is that the color dries mainly on the surface and has less tendency to sink into the sheet. One word of caution. Since the paint is on the surface it can easily be disturbed and create mud. Melting Off , 16″ x 7″ (40.64 x 17.78 cm ) Watercolor on High Surface/ Plate Finish paper board. From the Collection of Sonat, Inc.
The palette was simple combination of vermilion, thalo blue with some gamboge and a dose of black India ink in the foreground, with much of the tree line poured onto the dampened surface and allowed to blend and puddle.
Compare that with the following effect on a traditional sheet of watercolor paper with a coldpress surface.
March, 18.5″ x 32.5″ (48 x 38 cm) Watercolor on 140lb. D’Arches paper. Private Collection
While the palettes are similar the dark passages are softer, the blending is more subtle, creating a quieter image. The basic message is that the paper surface can contribute to making a big difference in the presentation and the feeling in a work.
The Quarry, 10.5″ x 21.25″ (27 x 54 cm) Strathmore hot press rag illustration board. Artist Collection
The mood and the palette are different. But note the sharp edges in defining the rocks on the edge of the waterline. If you look carefully you can see hints of Gamboge in the upper edges of the treeline and in the limestone rock of the quarry’s edge. The colors in this work are Thalo Blue, Gamboge and Winsor red blended in with blue to create the darker passages.
Want to know more about watercolor glazing techniques?
Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor, Vol I by Dr. Don Rankin: BUY DIRECT at http://www.createspace.com/3657628
ON LINE WATERCOLOR COURSES: Join Don and learn more about watercolor glazing techniques at your own pace in your own home. Level I covers the basic techniques for developing wonderful glazing effects. The course is designed using simple exercises to acquaint you with the underlying principles of watercolor glazing. It also directs you in the better choices of color selection and the proper sequence of application. You can stop the video, do an exercise, master it and continue or review as you wish.
Level II is a full (real time) demo in the artist’s studio. The only editing is the omission of the drying time between some of the washes. See the progression from beginning to end.
2017 recipient of Marquis Who’s Who Lifetime Achiever Award in Art and Education
December Mist Watercolor 40″ x 25.5″
Perhaps this painting needs a bit of explanation. This goes against the old maxim that if you have to explain it, its no good. There is a story here, at least for me. I have painted at least three pieces on this site. Each one is connected to the place. This area was once a bustling American Indian community. Portions of this stream was lined with white clay and the running water was clear. I recall being shocked at finding the white clay tile lining a portion of the stream. Who put them there? Was it done by the original community? Questions for which I have no answers. Many of the trees are magnificent Beech trees. Their bark is smooth, yet rugged, and in some ways resemble concrete pillars. The light changes with the season and the time of day. Time and water has eroded portions of the stream bed wall revealing a network of roots that nourish the growth along the banks. There is a presence here. You can feel it if you quietly sit or walk among the giant trees.
Even in the dead of winter the Beech trees often hold on to a few of their summer leaves. At times they curl and become almost transparent in the winter sun but they hold on none the less. I see them as a silent testimony to the original people of this land. They remind me of the ones who did not get swept away in the Trail of Tears. The ones who still call Alabama their home.
I was there on a chilly winter morning with the rising sun burning through the morning mist with only the sound of the quietly running water as it slowly made its way through the old camp.
Want to know more about watercolor glazing techniques?
Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor, Vol 1 by Dr. Don Rankin buy direct at http://www.createspace.com/3657628
ON LINE COURSES: Join Don and Learn more about watercolor glazing techniques at you own pace: Level 1: https://www.Udemy.com/mastering-glazing-techniques-in-watercolor/
2017 recipient of Marquis Lifetime Achievement Award in Art and Education
Milking Time 27″ x 14.75″ watercolor
This painting is a part of a larger story. The actual piece had its beginnings a little over 30 years ago. I just recently finished the work but I think there is a valuable object lesson to be shared. From time to time in my career I have been involved in painting portraits. One of my most unusual as well as gratifying opportunities came when a land owner commissioned me to do a portrait. Not an usual request. However, there was one exception. This “family” member was a prize bull. I accepted the challenge and the painting was well received and was hung in a prominent location in the house.
During my time in the pasture I had an opportunity to see the light change and create many wonderful shapes as it played across the ground and the cattle. Milking time was inspired by that portrait session. Even though these cows had nothing to do with the bull and were kept in a separate pasture I was attracted to the light and the shapes they made as they patiently awaited milking. A few weeks later I began to piece together my sketches and ideas and began the painting in my studio. After a few days I just seemed to lose energy and questioned my original idea. I set the watercolor, still secured to one of my plywood boards, aside.
Losing the energy:
As I wrote in the beginning that was a little over thirty years ago. Perhaps the rest of the story will support my wife’s contention that I suffer from packratism! Thirty years is a long time to ignore a piece of work that just somehow wasn’t clicking. At least in my mind I just couldn’t get up the enthusiasm to finish the painting. A few days ago I discovered the old watercolor after I had completed another work. It was patiently waiting, still secure and no worse for the wait. I looked at the old piece and decided that it did have some potential after all. I began to apply new washes with a great deal of intent. After a few days of glazing and dry brushing I consider it finished.
Milking Time in it’s beginning stages.
This photo was taken before I added any more work to the piece. It is a good opportunity for everyone to see what happens as more washes and refining strokes are applied.
The Moral of the Story?
While I don’t really recommend waiting thirty years to solve visual challenges in a painting; it is often good to put a painting away for a bit of time. I recommend this if you are having a problem trying to figure out what is going wrong in the work. Putting a piece out of sight for 2-3 days can do wonders for your process. If you are terribly impatient placing your painting so you can see its reflection in a mirror will help you see areas that are not working. If you are a painter don’t be too hasty to trash a work just because you are having trouble solving your visual puzzle.
Want to know more about glazing techniques in watercolor?
Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor by Dr. Don Rankin is available direct from the artist at http://www.createspace.com/3657628
Online watercolor instruction about the watercolor glazing techniques with Don Rankin available: LEVEL I: Building a foundation in watercolor glazing techniques with short and simple watercolor exercises. Learn at your own pace. https://www.Udemy.com/mastering-glazing-techniques-in-watercolor/
LEVEL II: mDesigned for students who want to see the application from start to finish on a more complex level: https://www.Udemy.com/mastering-glazing-techniques-in-waterolor-level-II/
Marquis Who’s Who Award Recipient 2017
From time to time I get questions about the strength of color in my paintings. Some want to know how I get such powerful luminous washes in watercolor. While the glazing technique plays a large role in the creation; there is another component. This is something that perhaps I have neglected to mention.
Old Hackberry Lane approx 8″ x 6″ watercolor*
FRESH PAINT: In order to fully explain I must digress to 1983. I was writing one of my first books on watercolor. Since I was writing I felt that I should get some technical data from the manufacturers that made what I considered to be the best watercolor paints. While there are a number of excellent paints these days; in 1980 there were two very popular brands in the USA. I made contact. Winsor & Newton was very open to discussing their paints with me. Wendell Upchurch was my contact. When we first began to talk, I asked him what was his job. His reply shocked me. He stated that his primary job was traveling around the country correcting all of the erroneous information that was found in so many of the watercolor books that were being written! He was delighted to spend time with me explaining the processes and the actual facts concerning producing and using quality watercolor paints. Needless to say we spent many hours discussing watercolor paints.
Two Choices: Most watercolor painters in America tend to use watercolor that comes in a tube. Many painters in the UK and parts of Europe prefer to use tub colors. What is the difference ? Aside from the consistency the most important aspect is the degree of binder and preservative found in the paints. The colors that are packaged in tubs are a bit more tacky and they allow for constant re-wetting in daily use. Tube colors have less preservative and binder and it is suggested that one should only put out as much color as will be used in a day’s session. Many are accustomed to putting the tube colors on the palette and wetting and re-wetting the color until it is used up. Then more color is applied to the palette and the cycle resumes. In my early years I followed this pattern myself.
Everybody Does it or Do They? Be honest, most people follow this pattern. However, a lot of painters have found a better way. You can test this yourself. Put out a little fresh paint, dampen your brush and apply a wash to a piece of paper. Rise out your brush and moisten a portion of the same color that has dried on your palette. Look at the results. Surprised?
Old Hackberry Lane is a memory painting. Years ago it was one of the routes that would bring you to the eastern edge of Shades Mountain. The narrow two lane chert road made several switchbacks up the side of the mountain. At times you would feel hemmed in as the orchard tree branches would scrape across the fender or roof of your car. Luckily, I never encountered an oncoming car. There were no street lights and often in the fall and winter as the night began to fall the bare branches would be cloaked in the gathering gloom of mist and the settling of smoke from the numerous fireplaces. Painting luminous darks can often be a challenge. I prefer to create the dark using a wet into wet technique, layering fresh dark colors over a vibrant under painting. The fresh color is more powerful and luminous. Simple to apply yet profound in effect. If you are new to this the power of the color can be scary. However, it is a good idea to practice and see what it can do. *Original on view at Andrew Wyeth Gallery, Chadds Ford, PA
Want to know more about watercolor glazing techniques ? Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor, Volume I by Dr. Don Rankin is available.
Watercolor Classes online: Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor with Dr. Don Rankin. Lifetime access of beginning principles at http://www.Udemy.com/mastering-glazing-techniques-in-watercolor/
LEVEL II: an in studio demonstration of the watercolor glazing technique. Preview at: https://www.Udemy.com/mastering-glazing-techniques-in-watercolor-level-II/
Let’s face it; without light things would be pretty dismal. In fact without light there would be no life. In my painting career I have celebrated light in all of its incredible manifestations. Light and life go hand in hand. Toward that end I want to share a recent painting, actually this is a watercolor study. This study will be used to develop a larger egg tempera painting. This study has a story; so here goes.
Callie in sunlight 8.5″ x 6″ watercolor on paper
Animals have always played a large role in our household. Almost all of our furry children are rescues of one sort or another. The first cat came into our household when my daughter was around 8 years old. That has been more years than I wish to think about. So a little over 16 years ago my daughter, Carol, came to visit from one of her business trips carrying a furry ball in her arms. She had already been named Callie since it was obvious that she was a Calico. Callie had been rescued from starvation in a town where my daughter had been sent to do some field work.
Callie needed a home and like others before her, we welcomed her into our home. As everyone knows cats are not like dogs and pretty soon Callie became pretty much the dominant pet in our home. There was one exception, our Golden Retriever mix didn’t like cats. There was always barking and snarling and threats but no bloodshed. Detente reigned. In fact it was quite comical.
A little over a year ago Callie became quite ill and we went to the vet. They did a number of things for a cat that had been lethargic and with little appetite. Callie pulled through. Her personality changed. Our fairly quiet cat had become vocal and demanding, always seeking food. She started slipping out onto the deck in our fenced in backyard. She would sit for hours on the deck gazing and dozing in the fresh air. She would even brazenly strut close to Marley, our retriever, as if to say, “What are you going to do about it?” Talk about chutzpah, she displayed it in her final days. About two months ago Callie died and now rests under a stump in one of her favorite haunts in our backyard.
At this point in our life she will be the last cat to grace our home. This watercolor was inspired by one of those moments when she sat in the sunlight in our den gazing out onto the deck she loved. The light seemed to illuminate her as she melded into the light. Little did I know that she was nearing the end of her days.