Watercolor: Vanilla Sun – and a month after the Thomas Fire

a watercolor of a gerbera daisy in a cut crystal vase next to a bird figurine

Vanilla Sun 10.5 x 8 watercolor on paper (sold)

Flexing Our Composition Muscles

While experimenting with the camera on my phone, I snapped a flurry of photos around the house to exercise my composition muscle. When I upload the photos to my computer, I’m always surprised. Looking at vignettes as a row of little thumbnails makes it easier to find impactful compositions, because I can’t get distracted by the details. With a little cropping here and there, a few of them were just right for watercolors.  Do you harvest painting subjects this way too? Do you walk through your home when the sunlight is slanted and bright, looking for ideas?  If not, maybe give it a go; on a sunny day, in the late afternoon or early morning.  Open all the curtains and snap photos of interesting vignettes in your own rooms.   Keep your eyes squinted almost shut to remove details, and focus on the big shapes and contrasts. It’s a great way to collect painting ideas and practice composition by simply turning the lens of your camera horizontal, or vertical, or moving closer in, or farther out from the scene, etc. There are likely watercolors to paint all around your house and garden.

Creative License in Watercolor

I added a curtain on the left in the final watercolor above – because the empty flower pot outside the window in the reference photo (see below) wasn’t rocking my sense of aesthetic groovy.  I also replaced the foot of a dark bronze lamp in the lower left corner of the photo with an imaginary patterned ceramic tray I wish I owned. 🙂 Hmmmmm, Maybe I should take a pottery class…. What a tactile adventure that would be, huh? As if I need new distractions in my little studio full of good temptations already. Bad dog – No biscuit!  Back to the brushes!

The start of a watercolor, with transparent washes in blocked shapes, and a reference photo pinned to a drawing wall to the left

First washes over a pencil drawing from the iphone image on the left.

The Thomas Fire

Today makes one month since the Thomas Fire started. The blaze is currently 92% contained, and has charred 281,893 acres (or 440 square miles).  It burned down over 1000 homes.  I can hardly believe four weeks have passed since it started, because there is still so much evidence of it around us. The fire is the first topic of conversation out and about – in banks, grocery stores and restaurants. Friends who lost homes are sifting ash for mementos and trying to figure out What’s Next.

Mounds of ash are piled against trees and along curbs on the streets. Our ash-embedded insulation was removed from the attic this week. Workman hauled bag after bag of it down the stairs and out the kitchen door in hazmat suits, and I silently thanked the stuff for not igniting. It turns out, I have to have the interior of our home steam cleaned to get the ash out so we don’t breath it over the next decade. I’m clearing, packing and moving stuff to prepare for the steaming crew. And I’m having a fire sale to move art & make way. If you need a little artsy goodness on your walls, take 30% off here.

The whine of chainsaws and wood chippers is a constant because burned trees and power poles are being cut down and removed in our neighborhood. It’ll be awhile before this event is a memory rather than a daily list of ToDo’s. But things are looking up, and folks are starting to smile again. I wrote about that here, in a newsletter.

a woman painting in an art studio, and the same woman standing before a burned down house

Didi Martin in her studio, and looking for mementos after the fire

When Things are Hard, Make Art

My friend and fellow artist Didi lost her house and studio in the fire. We visited the site in respirators and rubber gloves this week, and searched through the debris for something – anything that was precious. Her studio was a separate building on her property facing a slope of avocado trees and orchard views. As we tiptoed through the rubble and ash, she found her favorite chisel under a mound of debris, and a custom made gift of a clay pot with “Didi’s Brush Jar” incised in the glaze. All that remained of the brushes was melted ferrules in a hard little pool. But it was something. An exciting, tearful something. When every item from your creative space is lost, and you find one thing intact, it almost becomes a totem for moving forward. Something survived. It’s hopeful. And so is Didi. If you’re so inclined, follow her on her new instagram account here, and show her some love as she rebuilds her life and her art-making habits after such a loss.

Thanks for listening, and for the support you’ve sent towards my community this month. You guys are a generous, kind-hearted, bear-hugging tribe, and I’m grateful to know each of you.

I’ll see you in the next post –


a horizon line with big blue sky dotted with peach and gray clouds

The sunrise this morning – a bit clearer of ash and soot. Things are looking up. 🙂

Art Quote

All visual experiences begin with light. The intent of representational art is to portray physical objects, in essence to portray the effects of light on those objects. The colors we see are, in fact, light as it is either reflected or absorbed by an object. The techniques California plein air landscape artists used to portray the effects of light were learned from Impressionism. Born in France among a small group of alienated artists in the late 1800’s, and proclaimed in Paris in a momentous exhibition in 1874, Impressionism is perhaps the culmination of the development of visually representational art in western culture. At the same time, Impressionism is the first step towards Modernism, as it opted to break the visual image into its integral parts, distinguished by the profusion of small bits of color that characterize an Impressionist painting.

~Jean Stern

5 Responses to Watercolor: Vanilla Sun – and a month after the Thomas Fire

  1. Val Lanagan January 10, 2018 at 10:17 am #

    Belinda I hope you are safe and well. I have been following the terrible news of mudslides on UK TV and sending thoughts and prayers to everyone affected.
    On the subject of art I watch your videos on You Tube and they are the best and easiest to follow. You are a very good teacher and demonstrator. Many thanks.

    • Belinda DelPesco January 23, 2018 at 10:52 am #

      Hi Val, Thanks so much for your kind words and compassionate thoughts. Everyone in this community appreciates your good sentiments and well-wishes for the area affected by the fires and mudflows. Slowly but surely, people are coming around from the stun and blight of loss, and starting to plan the next steps towards rebuilding. XO

  2. Lenore January 8, 2018 at 2:48 am #

    Love everything about this post — and you.

    • Belinda DelPesco January 8, 2018 at 7:01 am #

      Thanks for your visit, and the curb-side-bear hug. 🙂 XOXO


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