All It Needs Is a Dragon

Several weeks ago, I had an “art night” with Amy, a young friend who has Down’s Syndrome. Amy loves art, so I figured we could do some watercolor. I got out two 11×14 pieces of rough-press watercolor paper, taped them to foamcoare, got out the brushes and paints, and went and picked Amy up.

The plan was to have her over for two hours. She tends to enjoy just working on projects quietly at her own pace, so I showed her how to use the different tools and how to mix and apply the paint, and then I turned to my own blank board.

I was just messing around. I never do a painting without first drawing, but this time I decided to give it a whirl. For some reason, I felt like painting a foggy, rainy landscape with lots of evergreens, kind of like the ones I see around me constantly here on Whidbey Island. I used primarily two colors, oddly enough–green and grey.

With no pressure to get a painting done perfectly, but with the goal of finishing whatever I was going to make within two hours, I threw down a generous wash of grays, deliberately making the lower parts of the rainclouds darker. At some point, I decided to have the rain receding, only falling on half of the picture. I think I must have had an image of Thomas Cole’s “Oxbow” painting in the back of my mind, because my painting developed in a similar composition.

The painting with several wet-on-wet washes, building in the shapes of the fog, coastline, and an undercoat for the trees.

The painting with several wet-on-wet washes, building in the shapes of the fog, coastline, and an undercoat for the trees.

"View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm," Thomas Cole (1836). Looking back at my painting, I'm pretty sure that this famous work of art, commonly known as "The Oxbow," was in the back of my mind. Mine, however, is a Pacific Northwest version. With a dragon.  Because... why not?

“View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm,” Thomas Cole (1836). Looking back at my painting, I’m pretty sure that this famous work of art, commonly known as “The Oxbow,” was in the back of my mind. Mine, however, is a Pacific Northwest version. With a dragon. Because… why not?

At some point, it turned into a coastline with a seascape, with the rain primarily over the sea. I don’t usually paint this much wet-into-wet, but I had two hours and nothing to lose. I let myself throw down more paint before letting it dry for a few minutes while I got out cookies to serve to my friend.

As the paint dried, I added details: some crisp lines in the clouds, strokes for the rain, trees. I added the first layers for a large tree in the lower left, then put in lines of distant trees on either coastline. To capture the effect of fog, I painted in the trees using a round brush, then blotted the lower edges. Then I used a wet brush to blur it even more. I’ve never painted fog like this before, but I think I will need to remember the technique, because I was certainly happy with how it turned out:

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As I added details on the trees and more lines for the rain, I noticed that I’d accidentally splashed a few drops of green into the sky. At this point, the painting took a turn for the whimsical, because, honestly, although it was beautiful, it was still missing something. Why not try some whimsy? So I splashed more green, and a little bit of pale, bright blue into the lines of the rain and in the upper right corner. Lovely.

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But something was still missing. Something in the upper third on the right hand side. Something flying blissfully through the sky, like the bald eagles do over Penn Cove here on the Island. One little problem, though. I can’t draw birds to save my life.

I looked at Amy. “I think I’m going to put a dragon in it.”

Amy grinned. “A dragon?”

“Yep.”

So I got out my pencil for the first time in the evening, sketched a quick shape with wide wings and a long neck flung back in happiness– after all, I imagined this dragon must be about as happy as the eagles to be flying up there in the fresh air after the rain– and painted him quickly in with more grey.

I looked down at my painting and couldn’t stop grinning. Two hours. I’ll have to try that again sometime. There’s nothing like no lines, no restrictions, and no critics to make you try something new.

I’ll also have to remember that adding dragons improves landscapes. I think I’ll call it Water Dragon #1. Because, who knows? I might decide to paint another.

Water Dragon #1, completed. Prints of this painting will be available in my Etsy shop by 9/24/14.

Water Dragon #1, completed. Prints of this painting will be available in my Etsy shop by 9/24/14.

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