NMSG Watercolors

A tilted world of shadow and light, wind shiny grasses and water in flight

January 11, 2017
by nmsg

Falling Tide – A Puzzlingly Banded World

Saltmarsh view Farnham's clam shack essex massachusetts

Falling Tide – Watercolor painting by NMSG

This is the next landscape in my month of daily landscapes, the one from yesterday. I have found a problem with posting each painting the next day – I can’t wait to photograph the painting until a bright day. It didn’t clear up today until the sun was low. Hence the blue cast to this photo. I will have to come back later with a better photograph. (Fixed now.)

The colors may not be right, but at least the photograph is enough to illustrate my most common composition puzzle. This is a problem that is probably immediately obvious to anyone who does not live on the edge of a body of water, but which is hard for me to spot and is invisible to the rest of my water oriented family. This painting consists of horizontal bands – sky, land, water, land. We don’t see it because unless we are in the woods, this is normal, just what the world looks like. Often, it is only three bands – sky, land, water. I didn’t notice anything odd until I looked at the painting the next day. This is not how a painting is supposed to be composed. There is supposed to be someplace for the viewer to stand. Viewers, unlike us, don’t tend to account for the possibility of a boat. There are supposed to be more diagonals. The picture is not supposed to be divided in half. And yet, in order to produce something that does not consist of two or three or occasionally four bands, I have to go someplace where there are bluffs, or at least high banks, and look at my view sideways. Gloucester and Rockport have more of this sort of thing, but one of the features of Essex salt marsh is its flatness, and the lakes aren’t much better. I’m not sure how to deal with this. Any ideas?


January 8, 2017
by nmsg

Is the government poisoning its own army?

James Gurney wrote a fantastic book called Color and Light http://jamesgurney.com/site/213/color-and-light-a-guide-for-the-realist-painter. In the back, on pages 218 and 219, is a table of reliable modern pigments. It is very informative. Benzimidazolone lemon’s ASTM rating is I-II. Quinacridone orange’s CIN is PO 48. Transparent red oxide is… transparent. There are even notes. The one for pyrrole orange says it is high chroma. Viridian is inorganic synthetic chromium. All very useful if you want your painting to be the same color in ten years or you are dissatisfied with the way your current tube of green paint is behaving. All very dry unless you happen to be interested in chemistry. Almost all very dry. Trust James Gurney to make pigment tables interesting. The note for chromium oxide green would even be funny if it weren’t so upsetting sounding. It says “Used in military camouflage. Durable. Toxic.” Durable is a desirable military characteristic, at least for your own army, but toxic? Really?

PS – I am starting my month of landscapes today. I am. There should be enough heat in my shed cum studio now for me to wade out there through the snow and get started. Deep breath… and here goes…


A Month of Watercolor Landscapes

January 7, 2017 by nmsg | 0 comments

Every once in awhile, I find it useful to spend a month painting daily. This serves a number of purposes. I am always thinking about painting in the back of my mind, but since I am also a mother, a wife, and a daughter, it is nice occasionally to have a month where painting is a daily activity. Mysteriously, painting is a surprisingly stressful activity, almost scary. Painting daily reduces that stress and makes painting more fun. I always learn a lot when I focus on doing a small painting every day from start to finish rather than taking a number of days to do a larger painting. It forces me to step back and see the whole building process. Because I am moving faster, the right side of my brain, the more creative side, has more say in what I do, while the more methodical left side scrambles to catch up. Even when the immediate results aren’t “good” and the painting fails, it generates ideas to use in future paintings. It is easy for paintings to build on each other. Working within the restrictions of doing a small painting every day is like writing a haiku – more tinkering is involved to stay within the restrictions, forcing one to stay with an idea longer. Painting daily is hard but at the end, it is very satisfying to lay them all out on the floor and see them all together. This is the last day of our winter vacation. Tomorrow, I begin on my 30 landscapes!


December 31, 2016
by nmsg

Year End Books – Add some art to your party

 End journals for New Year's parties with an awl, paper folder, and heavy books for pressing

Here I am making year’s end booklets for my clan’s New Year’s party.

Our New Year tradition is a clan party. My family and my sisters’ families all meet at my mother’s house and play games, tell fortunes, and eat nachos. We can see the Boston fireworks from the upstairs deck. Any of the younger generation over 20 years old tends to have their own plans, but the rest of us like starting the New Year with a big family hug. Last year, I decided to add some art to our traditions. I made lots of small booklets and everyone wrote and drew their year. My nephew’s is full of Pokemon. Mine has a giant lightening bolt because my biggest event was when my oldest son was struck by lightening while up on a crane, earning him the nickname Sparky at work. We put all the booklets in a candy box in with the Christmas decorations. I’ve had several requests for more booklets this year, so I think this is becoming a new tradition!


Make a Year’s End booklet!

-Cut two sheets of 9″x11″ acid-free sketchpad paper in half horizontally
-Fold each sheet in half vertically, nesting the sheets together to make a booklet
-Open to the center page
-Punch five holes more or less evenly spaced down through all the folds
-Sew the pages together, starting at the top, leaving a longish tail and going down to the bottom
-Reverse directions, sewing back through the same holes going back up to the top again
-Tie the two ends together with an overhand knot
-The tails can be left on to make a bookmark or cut short
-Glue on Christmas cards or pieces of cardboard (cereal box works well) for covers
-Write and draw memories from the past inside
-Don’t forget to add the date!
-Put the booklet away with your Christmas decorations to be read next year


December 29, 2016
by nmsg

Numbering Paintings – A Simple System

An easy system for numbering watercolor paintings

Numbering Paintings – At last, a system simple enough that I will use it!

Up until now, I have been very inconsistent about how I label paintings. This is something I should be able to manage. There is not that much information involved. I just have to pick a system and then stick to that system. It seems simple enough, but apparently, this is one of those things at which I fail over and over and over again. I have been painting for about ten years now and have tried a number of systems and been completely incapable of sticking with any one of them. Somehow, by the time I finish painting a picture, I am too done to bother with the writing on the back. Rather like getting my children’s teeth brushed after having a lovely time with them all day.

No more. One of those sons, grown up now, has been taking an interest in my enterprise and suggested that I simply number each painting. Even I can manage that! No more trying to remember if I ended last year on Winter Woods 2 or 3 when I do another snowy woods scene! No more trying via the label to avoid confusion between the small watercolor sketch and the full painting when I record a sale! The unique number will prevent confusion.

I could have just begun the numbering with my next painting, but instead, I decided to go back and give most of my old watercolor paintings a number. The really old paintings are packed away and some are sold, but over the past few days I’ve gotten most of the others numbered and logged.

Tip – Number each of your paintings as you make them. Whatever else you do (or do not) write on the back, give each a unique number. This prevents confusion and makes logging sales and show entries easier.


December 27, 2016
by nmsg

Introducing Young Artists

A page featuring young artists!

If you are a young artist who would like to post your work here, use the contact page to send me a message and I will email you so you can send a photo of the work and a description. If you are having trouble deciding what to write, perhaps you could ask yourself why you chose this subject, where you get your ideas, and what you like about your work.

PS – Young artists under 18 will need a statement from a guardian saying they have permission to post on this website. Please include the guardian’s and the young artist’s names and the name of this website – nmsgwatercolors.com. This statement will not be made public.


December 21, 2016
by nmsg

Drawing with a Grid

Sighting Grid by Robert Fludd 1617 from Pablo Garcia's website DrawingMachines.org

Sighting Grid by Robert Fludd 1617 from Pablo Garcia’s website DrawingMachines.org

When I paint, I usually start by making a drawing. If I have chosen to paint in a fairly realistic way (which I often do), the success of my painting relies on my ability to draw accurately. I have been working on improving my drawing skill for a number of years now, but I still occasionally need help with the more complex scenes. When this happens, I use some sort of grid. Pablo Garcia’s website https://drawingmachines.org has a large number of historical illustrations of drawing aids. There are even pictures by Albrecht Dürer and Leonardo da Vinci of drawing grids from the 1500’s, so obviously there is no shame in getting some help with the drawing part of an art project.

I use grids in several ways. Most often, I simply mark the mid-point on every edge of my piece of paper, shut one eye and hold the paper up between me and the scene, move it around until the paper completely covers the part of the scene I want to paint, and make note of where the corners and middle marks land. “Let’s see – the bottom left corner is going to be that rock, and the bottom right lands in the middle of that patch of golden rod, and the middle right is half way through that tidepool, and … ” As long as I remember a few of the points, I can always hold up the paper again and remind myself of my reference points. If I have taped my paper to a board (rather than using a gummed pad), I use another piece of paper. As long as the aspect ratio is the same, my reference points will land in the same places. I find this very fast and easy, much easier than using some sort of clear view finder marked with a grid, like this one:

Table de L'Aquarelliste Sighting Grid, dE. Picart,1887, a drawing of a drawing aid for watercolor painters

Table de L’Aquarelliste Sighting Grid, dE. Picart,1887, from DrawingMachines.org

Pablo Garcia comments on this device, saying that it would be useless because it does not contain an eye piece, but this type of device is common even today. Art stores sell viewfinders. Books on drawing contain directions for making your own by cutting a rectangle in a piece of cardboard, marking the edges, and gluing threads across at the marked points. Even easier is to mark a grid on a piece of clear plastic and glue it into a frame. It need not be big. Small works better, especially if you have short arms. To use it, you will need to take mental note of where the corners of your view finder land in your scene so that you can hold the grid in the same place again.

I have tried a viewfinder like this and found it a bit too cumbersome for me to want to use, considering that I have access to modern technology. Instead, if I have a scene that requires more grid than simple mid-points, I take a photo using my iPad and then add a grid to the photo using the app ArtistsGridToolHD. I draw a grid with the same number of squares on my paper or if the painting is going to be light and erasing the lines difficult, I mark just the intersections. Then I draw the scene square by square on my paper. When I am done, I erase the lines, set aside the gridded photo, and draw from life or if I am working in my studio, from the original ungridded reference photos and sketchbook notes.

Gridding can also be used to enlarge or shrink a drawing.

Using ArtistsGridToolHD app on an iPad to grid a scene in order to draw it.

Example of a photo gridded with the ArtistsGridToolHD app.

PS – Do go explore Pablo Garcia’s website https://DrawingMachines.org! It is a fascinating site.



December 19, 2016
by nmsg

Is this art? Or is it engineering?

Many people think of engineering as the opposite of art. For years, engineers have had a reputation for being logical and practical while artist have been considered emotional madmen, although the reality is that many artists were disciplined workers and good business people, and many engineers have been crazy inventors. There is a lot of overlap. Good engineering requires creativity and vision, and good artists usually are much more disciplined and hard working than their reputation implies. Many projects live at the intersection of engineering and art. These range from comparatively simple, such as this marble run:

To more complex, such as Theo Jansen’s strandbeests:

Art? Or engineering? Both? Or neither?

All I know is that the engineers in my family consistently make the most helpful comments about my paintings, helping with the decisions, telling me what is wrong with them, and making suggestions about how to fix them. They truly see a painting rather than just look at it, and they have the confidence to offer suggestions.


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