Paintings: Finished, Finishing & a New Start

I’ve been working away in my studio—and here is an update on my progress.

Horizontal Water in Staccato is finished and this is the official photograph. I did some experimenting using High Flow acrylic in a Fine Line marker, which allowed me to “draw” skinny horizontal lines inside some of the horizontal textures. It added a new, linear feel to the painting. And it was fun.

Horizontal Water in Staccato

Horizontal Water in Staccato 30″ x 30″ Acrylic on panel


Below is the a snapshot of the as yet unnamed painting on which I’ve been working seemingly forever. It’s lurking on my easel, but I’ve been trying to tune it out all week in order to take a little break from it. The theory being that I’ll be able to look at the painting anew and suddenly see what it still needs. I’d move it into another spot in my studio, but it’s so large that it doesn’t fit anywhere else. Jim suggested that I cover it in a white sheet. A tempting suggestion, but I do take quick peeks at it looming there and perhaps the solution to this painting’s problems is eminent.

Almost done? 480

Title?   Size—real big   Acrylic on 2 panels


Next up, a new painting in progress, just begun this week. I started this one with a thin coat of Light Molding Paste over the gesso. Once it was dry, I used really watered down paint to create washes across the canvas. I did this by laying the painting flat on a table and using a large paintbrush, I covered parts of the canvas with water. Then I applied the soupy paint and tilted the canvas back & forth to get the paint to run. I also used my trusty spray bottle to spritz some areas and applied paint to those. Once the whole surface was covered, I dried it with a hairdryer and then repeated the process a few more times. Oh, I also flung some paint around on the canvas. By the way, this painting is 48″ x 60″, so it’s pretty big.

First day 480

Day 1


On day two I started to add layers of various colors over the top of the washes using some glazes and some light molding paste with color added and applied with a palette knife. To some, I also added texture using one of my favorite New Age texture tools.

Second day 480

Day 2


Yesterday I added more layers and also a green glaze to parts of the painting to start adding some depth.

Day 3

Day 3


What’s my plan of attack for today? I have no idea what or where or how I’m going to continue. And now it’s time for me to get myself over to that easel and figure it out.

Sonoran Arts Network Online Journal Interview

The Sonoran Arts Network is a monthly online journal published by C.J. Shane. The journal, which is a labor of love by Shane, has been in publication for several years, “connecting arts and communities in the Sonoran bioregion”. There are so many artists doing such good work with so little recognition that I hope this publication will eventually lead to all kinds of interesting results.

Recently, Shane asked me if I would like to be interviewed for the October issue. Of course I said yes. A number of thoughtful questions required me to get introspective. Here’s the link to this interview which also includes lots of photographs of my paintings.

Be sure to take a look at the Sustainability Fund  page in the e-journal. I’d be delighted if Shane received some money as a result of this blog post. As I mentioned above, the Sonoran Arts Network is literally a labor of love, taking many hours of Shane’s time and much energy. At this point her funding comes from reader contributions. I’d also like to point out that you can sign up to receive the monthly mailing. It’s always a treat when it hits my inbox—something to look forward to every month.

Shane is a remarkable person with a fascinating life story. Take a look at her website to see what I mean. Shane is an accomplished artist—painter, relief printmaker and creator of artist books, as well as a published writer. Not to mention an editor, a librarian, a historian and an avid gardener.


A Video “Painting Water” By James Cowlin

Growing up, for some reason my family never owned a video camera—and yes they did exist even way back then. Consequently, I’m used to seeing myself in photos but not in action. I admit to having some discomfort at the thought. I don’t mind standing up in front of people and talking but somehow talking in front of a camera seems much more threatening to me.

Jim had suggested creating a video of me talking about me, me, me and my art work for a long time, but due to a distinct lack of enthusiasm on my part, it hadn’t happened. Until a few days ago. In preparation for teaching iPhone video workshops, Jim has been enlisting several people to participate in his process for use in his workshops. How could I refuse? So here’s the video, all 4 minutes and 7 seconds.



Moving Boulders in My Paintings

Sometimes I feel like carving out the time to paint feels like trying to shove boulders up a hill. And sometimes when a painting isn’t going well, it also feels like the act of painting is like moving boulders around. In this instance, I was literally moving boulders around in two paintings.

It started when my friend, the artist Sharon Brady, stopped by to critique my work. She liked the painting, but then after spending some time looking, something started to bother her. It was the boulders. They were all the same size and shape and were regularly spaced. Why hadn’t I noticed that before? That’s what artist friends are for—they can see things you can’t because you’re too involved. I’m grateful for Sharon’s input.

I got out my trusty sander, proceeded to get rid of the boulders as best I could and started back in. The domino effect of art took hold and before I knew it I was revamping the whole darn painting. In the end, it took me at least twice as long as a painting this size warranted. I think it improved the painting. I hope.

Passageway, Acrylic Painting by Barbara Kemp Cowlin

On the next painting I started the domino effect all by myself. Another smallish painting, initially a vertical format, initially based on some snapshots from Canyon de Chelley, in Northern Arizona. That didn’t go so well, so I turned the on it’s side and continued on, still based on those Canyon de Chelley snapshots. DID NOT LIKE IT AT ALL. Out came the sander again. This time the painting morphed into something totally different—based on snapshots from Zion National Park. Two states, 3 paintings on-top-of-each-other later here is what I ended up with. Are we there yet? I sure hope so.

Roundabout, Acrylic Painting by Barbara Kemp Cowlin

My artist friend, Diana Creighton, came by today to have a look at my big painting. She agreed that it wasn’t done. I knew it, but was hoping I was wrong. She had some very helpful suggestions, so as soon as I finish this blog post, I’m getting to work on this painting. By the way, it’s a lot bigger than the little paintings above, but of course, on the screen they all appear the same size.

Wave, Acrylic Painting by Barbara Kemp Cowlin

And here’s one I just started a couple days ago.

Painting in progress, Barbara Kemp Cowlin

Paintings in Progress…For My Sister, Nancy

My wonderful sister, Nancy, tells me that she enjoys seeing sequences of my paintings in progress. Several other people have mentioned this to me, too. It kind of surprises me, maybe because when I’m in the process it’s quite a lot of hard work and often I find it hard to believe I’ve made any progress after a day of painting. I guess what I see is the hard work and what others see is the progress? At any rate, I always intend to document my work as I go along. Partly to post here. Also in the hope that I’ll find some sort of formula for getting from Point A to Point B, eliminating the struggle in between. But then I’d probably get bored!

58 x 80 inch large acrylic painting in progress

Above is a painting I’ve been working on for several months. I did start out documenting it daily, and posted a few photos several blog posts previous to this one. Then I got involved in painting and totally forgot to take pictures. This painting is 2 canvases bolted together. The total size is 58″ x 80″. Unbolted, it will fit into our Element, to be transported to shows. I’m finding it’s an aerobic workout to cover the surface of this one.


Try # 4 on this canvas, the other 3 are underneath

This little painting has been a real big pain in the neck. At 14 x 28″ if I charged what I’ve gone through on this one, it would cost a million dollars. It started out as a completely different painting. I decided I didn’t like the image—not the color, not the design, not anything. So I morphed it into a longer view of the same place. I worked and worked and worked. Hated that iteration, too. So I sanded off a lot of the paint, took what was left and created what you see above. Not only a different view but from an entirely different state! The initial painting was from Canyon de Chelley on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona and what you see here is from Zion National Park in Utah! So far so good I think. We’ll see if it cooperates and gets itself done.


24 x 24 inch start of rock & water ptg

I’ve barely worked on this one. I like what’s here, which is also a problem.  If I hate what I’ve done, then I feel free to mess with it because it’s no big loss. If I like it then it’s hard to continue for fear that I’ll goof up what I like about it. The classic lose-lose proposition. Soon I’ll take the plunge and get to back to work on this one. But not today…

Role Reversal—the WEGOs Teach Me About Watercolor Using the New Golden QoR Watercolors

Some time ago, I received a package from Golden Artist Colors. It contained a sampling of their brand new QoR (pronounced Core) watercolors. All of the Golden Artist Educators and Golden Working Artists were asked to experiment with QoR and then give feedback on how it performed and how it compared to other watercolor brands.

I sat on the goods for quite awhile since my watercolor experience is almost non-existent and I wasn’t sure how to proceed. The only watercolors I had ever used were inexpensive cake watercolors when I taught elementary school art. And then only to help the children create their own fabulous artwork. I myself had little luck using the watercolors. I figured right off that this wouldn’t count as a legitimate comparison to QoR.

I went to the library and picked up several books on the subject but just couldn’t manage to get started.

Then a flash of brilliance hit my brain. I thought to myself, “I’ll call on the WEGOs”.  And so I did.

WEGO stands for Watercolor Exploration Group of Oracle. The WEGOs are a remarkable group of seven women who have gotten together every Wednesday afternoon for the last 6+ years (to be precise, their journey started on May 28, 2008 but who’s counting) to create with watercolor. Over the years, the group has accumulated a vast amount of knowledge and experience with the medium. They assign themselves a project/experiment every week to be completed for the next meeting. They attend workshops in the Tucson area and around the country as individuals or in groups. Then they teach each other what they learned. Most remarkable of all is that they remain close friends, supporting each other in their art and personal lives. They say they’re not competitive with each other at all. Amazing!

The WEGOs were kind enough to come to my studio on a Wednesday afternoon several weeks ago. Their task—to experiment with the QoR, to compare it to the other watercolors they use, and to give me feedback. Plus have fun of course. And as a big bonus, I would be able to observe and learn and do some experimenting myself.

For starters I had no clue what to do with tubes of watercolor. My first surprise is that this group (as well as many other watercolorists) doesn’t use the watercolors straight out of the tube. Instead, they use palettes with dividers in which the tube colors are allowed to dry, each in their own separate little space. Each time they’re used they are moistened with water. When the painting session is over, the watercolors dry and are packed away ready to be used next time. Voila!

In order to get set up, Nyla Butler came over a few days before the get together with a supply of styrofoam plates she’d subdivided into sections using silicone to create a barrier between each section. Nyla and I had a mini-party applying a blob of each QoR color into its’ own little section on enough plates for each of the participants.


Two days later, the watercolor blobs had dried. The WEGOs arrived at my studio. Above, you can see them poised and ready to jump into their task.


Each person took a different approach to their experiments. Above is a chart comparing QoR to several other brands of the same color. And you can see the nifty plate with with its silicone barriers.


Since the group uses a variety of different brands of watercolors, there was a lot of chart making and comparing going on. On the left is a previously made chart and on the right is a new chart including the QoR watercolors.


And here is another participant’s chart.


Washes and charts.


Working away…


Here’s a chart in progress with a sketch of the pears included. Lovely isn’t it!


More experimenting.


Working from a magazine illustration.



The WEGOs took a well deserved break to refuel. Above is my famous (in Oracle) guacamole with chips, apples straight off our tree and last but not least further down the table and not visible here are homemade cookies.


Back to work. Having fun.


Above, Jill is concentrating on pears, experimenting with washes and lifting the paint.


A  landscape in progress.


I thought this was an interesting way to experiment with the colors. Each band is being build up with layers using a variety of techniques.


The pears again.


Apples. The texture is the result of QoR Watercolor Ground. The ground can be applied to all kinds of papers and a variety of other materials, such as canvas, to create an absorbent surface suitable for watercolor. Before the workshop I coated some big sheets of Arches 88 paper with 2 coats of QoR watercolor ground. Arches 88 is a smooth, heavy printmaking paper. You can see the texture created by using a coarse bristle brush, applying a coat on direction, letting it dry and then applying a second coat going the other direction. Lots of interesting possibilities for experimentation with this stuff.




More pears.


Experiments using Yupo.


Poppies in progress.




At the end of the afternoon, everyone commented on their reactions to QoR. There was a lot of enthusiasm. The group felt that the intensity of the QoR colors was remarkable. They liked the liftability as well as the blending capabilities. There were lots more specific observations, too.

So there you have it. A great afternoon with a great group. Many thanks to the WEGOs. And to Golden, of course.

I don’t think I’m on track to becoming a watercolorist, but I do think I’m going to have fun experimenting. And I’m going to bring QoR along next time I travel—so portable, such beautiful colors—maybe I’ll finally get around to creating a travel journal!




32 Ounces of Golden Light Molding Paste Later…

The big 32 oz. jar of Light Molding Paste is gone, gone, gone already. This size jar will ordinarily last for a number of smaller pieces. A hidden cost of painting large is suddenly crystal clear to me—massive increase in the use of art supplies. Luckily, I have a gallon of Light Molding Paste on order and hopefully it’ll arrive on the scene soon. Meanwhile I’ll have to live without it as I motor on with my jumbo-for-me painting.

I’m trying to keep on top of photographing the painting regularly, but am finding that daily is too often. I work hard for hours and hours but the changes are probably so small that they’re only apparent to me. And sometimes I step back after a day of painting and wonder what I’ve actually accomplished.

Below are a series of photos taken over the course of the past week or so from about June 15 through June 25:




It’s a bit more difficult to see the progress from the 3rd to the 4th photo, but if you look closely at the whiter areas, you’ll see what I was doing (maybe). It took a lot of moving things back and forth and adjusting directions and colors but the changes aren’t as drastic as I thought when I was actually painting.

It’s always at about this stage that I can convince myself that there’s not all that much left to be done. Experience tells me that that’s grossly optimistic—it’s more likely that I’ll be working away on this painting for weeks if not months and months.


Entering New Territory—A Very Large Canvas (at least for me)

I decided it was time for a new challenge. Previously, the largest canvas I’d ever painted was 48″ x 60″. That’s fairly large and I’ve done several. I’m not sure what the definition of a large painting is in the official art world, but I don’t think 48″ x 60″ qualifies. What you see below are 2 canvases, each 58″ x 40″, bolted together to form a 58″ x 80″ painting surface. By making a larger canvas from 2 smaller ones, they can be separated for ease in shipping, they’ll fit in the car for transporting to shows and they’ll also be easier to store.

I had Fred Soto of Fred’s Custom Stretching in Tucson stretch the canvases for me. This was another first, as I ordinarily do the stretching myself. He did a beautiful job, perfectly stretched with lots of bracing in the back and the bolt holes in the right places.

I did the canvas prepping. First I used a coat of GAC 100, which is a Golden product that seals the canvas and prevents support induced discoloration. On top of that I applied 2 coats of Golden Gesso.

The canvas(es) are so large I needed Jim’s help to get them bolted together and hoisted up on the wall easel.

All set and ready to go. There they sat for several days. Creating a painting on such a large surface appears to be a daunting task and I was pretty intimidated at the prospect.

I looked through my files of reference photographs, thinking, thinking, thinking. I cropped and printed a bunch. Eliminated down to a handful. Taped them up on the canvas one by one and sat and stared at each one. Finally I made my pick and took the plunge.

Well, this was certainly a wimpy start. If you look closely, you’ll see some pale pinkish marks. Just trying to get a sense of the motion and direction of the water. And to get something, anything to break the vast white surface.

The next day, I got a bit braver. I can tell you that covering the whole area takes both a lot of time and a lot of paint. I mixed the colors with generous dollops of Golden Light Molding Paste, which both extends the paint and can be used to create textures, which I did. I love the consistency and feel of this stuff. It’s a good thing I just ordered a gallon from Golden, as it took almost 32 ounces of Light Molding Paste just to get a thin coat on the painting.

On another note, here are the official photographs of 3 new paintings. If you check back to previous blog posts, you can see the progression to the finished paintings.

Floating World    Acrylic on canvas       24″ x 56″

Interval     Acrylic on canvas    40″ x 15″

Vision in Purple     Acrylic on panel            30″ x 30″

Are We There Yet? The Vision in Purple Painting May Finally Be Done…

I’ve lost track of how long I’ve been working on the Vision in Purple aka the Lady in Purple painting. At least three months, I think. At any rate, she’s gone through many changes, causing some despair on my part, as I’ve gotten stuck on multiple occasions. I couldn’t begin to tell you how many layers of paint and how many various Golden acrylic pastes, gels and grits are included in this painting.

There were several times when I was tempted to apply the screwdriver to remove the staples and toss the canvas into the garbage (saving the stretcher bars for reuse). Of course all of this is just part of the process—sometimes frustrating and painful not to mention laborious. Other times, paintings just seem to materialize with little fuss. And I’m never sure when I start out which it will be.

Here she is:

Vision in Purple, Acrylic on Canvas, 30" x 30"

Vision in Purple, Acrylic on Canvas, 30″ x 30″

I have her hanging next to the paintings I’m currently working on. And it seems every day I see some little thing that I need to fix. I know she’ll be completely done when Jim photographs her. At that point I don’t dare make any changes as he doesn’t appreciate having to continually re-photograph “finished” work.

Here’s what’s happening on the easel:

Day one, Canyon de Chelley acrylic painting

I just started this one yesterday. All paints mixed with Light Molding Paste and applied with palette knife.


In progress, panoramic acrylic painting

I’ve been working on this one for awhile. If you’re curious you can go back a few blog posts to see the progress.


Lyman Lake reflections acrylic painting

Is it possible that this one is done? I’m trying to figure out what I need to do next. Which might mean that it’s ready to be photographed. I’ll let it molder on the easel for a few days just in case. There are previous posts showing progress on this painting, too.




My Youngest Collector

The Oracle Artist Open Studio Tour happened several weekends ago on April 12 & 13. This was our fifth year of participation in the tour.

We had perfect weather and crowds of people. I had many interesting conversations—we get lots of winter visitors who have fascinating backgrounds. People were in great spirits and were very complimentary about both Jim’s and my work.

Here are a few shots of the way in which we displayed our work in my studio. What you don’t see is the massive amount of stuff that I moved out of my studio and into the adjacent garage as well as the cleaning that went on in order to make the space look like this.

An overview of a section of my studio, with Jim’s cloud photographs and a few of my paintings on the right wall. We both had cards as well as books on display. Of course everything was available for purchase.


A view of a few of my paintings

A few of my Reflection in the Desert paintings.


Jim's cloud photographs

Jim’s display of a group of his cloud photographs (unframed, in the center) plus two of his framed landscape photographs.


Visitors during the Oracle Open Studio Tour, 2014

Jim is on the right, talking to a visitor interested in the US Route 89 project. People in the background are looking at cards and books. There were times when the studio was full of people, but of course, I was too busy to take photos then.


Oracle Artist Studio Tour, my youngest collector

And here’s a shot of my youngest collector. Her grandparents purchased a small painting for her. Isn’t she gorgeous (and so is her Mom). She’s six months old. How wonderful is that?