The Making of 'Simply Superior'

29 November, 2023 2 comments Leave a comment

When my husband and I were travelling in the Airstream this summer and fall, I was able to paint ten small watercolours at our dinette. You can read about this mobile studio setup in this post: My Art Studio on the Road.

Working in a confined space meant I was limited to making paintings about a square foot or less in size. Once we were about four months into the trip, I started to yearn for my roomy home studio that would allow me to paint some larger, more impactful paintings.

One day when we were driving in the truck, I perused my digital folder of hundreds of finished paintings going back over thirty years. I made a list of a dozen extraordinary scenes that I felt would be suited to large-scale paintings.

In other words, I would consider these previous paintings to be studies for big, new, and exciting reinterpretations of scenes that still touch my soul.

Once we arrived back home last month, in very short order I got to work sketching out a couple of these paintings.

I am thrilled to be immersed in larger works; the first one I completed was this tall Lake Superior pebble beach scene, Simply Superior (varnished watercolour on 36 x 12 inch panel).

I remembered to stop and take photos of the work as it progressed, so I could share on social media the steps of creating this artwork. I have posted these photos below.

Watercolour in progress by Karen Richardson

My strategy was to finish a small section of the scene before proceeding with the next section. This provides exciting glimpses of the final artwork and encourages me to continue through the difficult middle phase that all paintings experience.

Watercolour in progress by Karen Richardson

I used masking fluid to save the white of the paper to represent highlights on the exposed stones. The underwater stones were difficult to create. The water in Lake Superior is so clear that underwater stones have the same colour and clarity as wet stones above the waterline. Several pale blue layers helped to 'submerge' the underwater elements.

Watercolour in progress by Karen Richardson

After three days of work, the upper half of the painting was completed, except for some minor adjustments that would be made in the final 'polishing up' of the painting.

Watercolour in progress by Karen Richardson 

Next I worked on the warm coloured stones in the lower half of the scene. Each stone required three or four layers of paint, with at least several hours of drying time between each layer. I painted a blue wash over the underwater section to help me get a grasp of its boundaries and to subdue the colours that would follow.

Watercolour in progress, by Karen Richardson

Once again, I completed one limited area of the painting at a time, to help fuel my excitement for the project. With a painting this large, it can be difficult to remain patient enough to work through the relatively unattractive early and intermediate stages, before reaching the satisfying realism of the final stage.

Watercolour in progress, by Karen Richardson

It took me twelve days in total to complete this painting, spread over a month. That averages three painting sessions per week.

Karen Richardson with her painting Simply Superior

Here is a photo of me holding the completed painting in its frame. This was a challenging piece but worth the struggle, as you can tell by my smile of relief.

Click here for more information about Simply Superior.

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  1. Babs Kall December 02, 2023

    You are remarkable! Such an inspiration. While we were out traveling this summer I did quite a few 5 × 7s and felt more and more confident with my watercolor skills…but I will challenge myself to go back to your book and try some of your techniques to achieve a more realistic look to a similar subject (based on my own photos). Now that I am back in my studio it should be much more productive. Thank you so much for sharing.

  2. Karin Dean-Williams December 02, 2023

    This is a gorgeous painting! I am curious as to how you varnish your work. I usually use a spray sealant (either Pebeo watercolour fixative or one with a UV protectant) and then apply 2-3 coats of Dorland’s wax. I live in Oakville and find most galleries do not appreciate varnishes watercolours even though they don’t require glass. Thanks.