The Making of 'February Flow'

08 January, 2017 12 comments Leave a comment

February Flow, watercolour by Karen Richardson

I completed this painting, February Flow, 18 x 24", just before Christmas and I have to say, I am enthralled with it. I don't know if my reasons are just sentimental (the scene is about ten miles from where I grew up), or if they are objective, but I feel like I captured something very special in this piece.

It has a Zen-like quality and looks deceptively simple. The painting is full of contrasts such as light/dark, still/moving, fragile/strong, simple/complex, quiet/noisy, and frozen/liquid. The complementary colour scheme of cool blues and warm browns is a favourite of mine.

Let me share with you some of the earlier stages of this remarkable painting.

I found the subject matter quite by accident. It started with this view of the Petawawa River, near its confluence with the Ottawa River (shown below).

Photo of Petawawa River, taken by Karen Richardson

We were there on a snowmobile trip with friends last February, and stopped briefly on the trail so I could take some photos. The sun was shining on my camera's digital display, and I had my helmet on, so I couldn't see what I was photographing exactly. I just pointed the camera at the river and took the shot. It wasn't until I reviewed my photos at home after the trip, that I noticed the lower left part of the scene. Here it is enlarged (shown below).

Photo of the Petawawa River, taken by Karen Richardson

I knew it would be a great painting subject, and finally last month I got to it. I decided on a fairly large format (18 x 24") to do justice to this scene.

After I drew a detailed sketch onto my watercolour paper, I masked out the sapling and painted in the first shadow layer on the snow, working on wet paper (shown below).

Step 1 of February Flow, watercolour by Karen Richardson

The next day, I re-wet the snow area with clear water and added a second layer to the snow shadows (shown below).

Step 2 of February Flow, watercolour by Karen Richardson 

The next day, I started painting the river. This was the difficult part of the process. I followed my reference photo very carefully, to recreate the shapes and values (lights and darks) so it would look like rapids. Here, the river is about half way complete (shown below).

Step 3 of February Flow, watercolour by Karen Richardson

And here is the stage where the river is pretty well finished. I removed the masking fluid and painted the ice on the sapling (below).

Step 4 of February Flow, watercolour by Karen Richardson

The next day, once the paper was fully dry, I tweaked a few shadows here and there, and darkened some sections of the river to complete the painting (shown below).

 February Flow, watercolour by Karen Richardson

I titled the painting 'February Flow' because I am becoming more aware of how truly precious our fresh water is, how lucky Canadians are to have an abundant flow of clean water in our rivers and lakes, and how important it is that we protect our fresh water resources for future generations.

If you would like to see some framed views of this piece, click here for more details.

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  1. Karen Richardson December 15, 2018

    Hi Campbell, I use a fine tipped calligraphy pen for very fine lines of masking and a soaped-up rigger brush for larger areas.

  2. Campbell Cochrane December 15, 2018

    Hi Karen . Great painting . Just wandering what you use to apply the masking fluid.

  3. Lisa April 22, 2017

    Is it possible to buy a print of this painting?

  4. Jeanette Meyer April 04, 2017

    Oh, this is absolutely stunning. Like I’m right there present in the power and beauty of the colors and the movement and the peace. Incredible.

  5. Frank Lomoro January 12, 2017

    Karen… A technically beautiful interpretation. I felt as if I was at the waters edge. (It gave me shivers)

    Well done ….Frank

  6. Eke Van der Zee January 12, 2017

    February Flow impacts me with especially the contrast movement/stillness.
    Amazing, beautiful, alive – don’t have enough words! Thank you!

  7. Marjory Barber January 11, 2017

    Dear Karen,
    “February Flow” is wonderful. I only had one class with you, but hope once my house is built in Valentia (Aug.2017) I will be able to take more classes. I absolutely love your work and enjoy your emails.
    Best regards, Marjory

  8. Lesa Robertson January 11, 2017

    This is a really stunning painting. Thank you for sharing your process. I enjoy hearing the story behind the painting.

  9. Maxine Ball January 11, 2017
    The painting is both peaceful and strong I love the blues and browns.It is a painting i could and sit and view for a long time.

    well done

  10. Maxine Ball January 11, 2017
    The painting is both peaceful and I love the blues and browns.It is a painting i could and sit and view for a long time.

    well done

  11. Heidi Kaphengst January 11, 2017

    Thank you for sharing
    Super genuine work

  12. Anne Paré January 11, 2017

    What a beautiful piece Karen, and thank you so much for sharing it and the instruction that went with it.
    You inspire and I look forward to taking your next session!