42 cm x 30 cm; watercolour on cotton rice paper; 2016

Blog Post 1

Hello! I’ve been an on-and-off watercolorist when I was still studying and working. Now that I’m retired from my work as a life science teacher and researcher, I’ve picked up my watercolour painting hobby once more. Since January 2013, I’ve focused on Chinese brush painting (Lingnan and Shui Mo). My plan is to post all my works here so we can learn from each other. For each painting, I’ll discuss the following: my composition, materials used, and tips on how I did my painting.

Why did I paint Dahlias and Kentucky Bluebirds? For the simple reason that it was an assignment for my Chinese brush painting workshop. But–on hindsight, when I finished my work, something flashed in my mind–the memory that during my childhood years, my father used to raise Dahlias and sing about Kentucky Bluebirds. Just a coincidence? Maybe. But I’m so glad that a pleasant childhood memory of my father surfaced in my consciousness. For that, I’ll surely have this work (42 cm x 30 cm, on cotton rice paper) framed and hanged in my studio.

Chinese brush painting uses three materials or treasures: rice paper, watercolour, and brush. The rice paper I used was the cotton type which is not very absorbent. The watercolours I used were round solid ‘cookies’ which give off brilliant colours. Here, I used rattan yellow and vermillion for the flower core; vermillion with carmine for the petals; yellow, green, and flower blue for the bud, sepals, young stems, and leaves; and yellow, green, and umber for the old branch. For the Kentucky Bluebirds, I used stone blue for the head; flower blue for the wing and tail feathers; and umber for the throat, chest, and the rest of the body.

I painted my composition in the following order: flowers, bud, sepals, stems, leaves, and birds. For me, I find it easier to paint plants than animals. So, I painted the Dahlia flowers first (the focus), and then, the Kentucky Bluebirds (the add-ons to direct the viewer to the focus). By the way, if you want, you can also start your painting with the birds (the add-ons), and then, paint the flowers (the focus) later.

Here are some tips for painting Dahlias:

Colors for flowers and leaves

  • Colours I used: ink, rattan yellow, carmine, green, flower blue, and carmine.
  • Use a thin, long, stiff brush loaded with light ink for drawing the outlines of the flower’s centre and petals.
  • Color the flower from the centre, going outward. Make the centre bright with rattan yellow topped with vermillion.
  • Color the petals by loading a big white brush with vermillion and dipping its tip with carmine.This will make the petals two-toned: dark at their bases and lighter at their tips.
  • Paint some petals which are folded upward from their sides.
  • If there are gaps between petals, fill them up with rattan yellow. This technique will make the flowers glow.
  • Paint some Dahlias which are half-opened, below yellow-green buds.
  • Dahlia buds point downward. As they open, they point upward.
  • Keep reviewing: Dahlia flowers are round. Add more petals if a flower does not have a round shape yet.
  • If the Dahlia flower is lined, paint all its other parts in free-hand style.
  • To paint mature leaves, load a big bamboo brush with a mix of yellow-green, then dip its tip with flower blue. This will make mature leaves two-toned.When still damp, paint the leaf veins. Do not paint the leaf veins when the leaves are bone dry, as the veins will appear on top of a leaf, and not within the leaf.
  • To paint young leaves, load a smaller bamboo brush with light yellow-green. When damp, paint the leaf veins with magenta or lightest ink.
  • Leaves should be in 3s–one biggest centre leaflet, with two smaller leaflets on each side. Its leaflets have serrated edges, just like rose leaflets.
  • Paint some folded leaves to make them look soft in texture.
  • If the bud sepals have gaps, fill them with a flower blue wash.
  • There are two kinds of sepals: the broad ones which envelope the half-opened flowers and buds; and the thin ones which surround the lower parts of the half-opened flowers and the unopened buds. Always dip the tip of the brush in flower blue before painting the buds, sepals, and young stem. This will make them rounded or 3D.
  • Paint the old branch–the bird perch–with a mix of yellow green and umber. This will make them look aged and sturdy.

Here are some tips for painting the Kentucky Bluebirds:

Colors for birds

  • Colours I used were umber, stone blue, and flower blue.
  • Here’s the painting sequence: eye, beak, head shoulder, wings,throat, breast, the rest of the body, feet, and tail.
  • Use a small, stiff, pointed brush to paint the eye and the beak. Add a white dot as highlight if the eye is already fully dry.
  • Use a bigger brush to paint the head. It should be a two-toned stone blue: dark near the beak, growing lighter near the bird’s back.
  • The wings should have three layers: as a continuation of the bird’s back, the smaller wing feathers, and the long wing feathers. Make them 2-toned to make them 3D.
  • Paint the leg and the 3 toe digits in dark flower blue.
  • Check the general outline of the birds–egg-shaped.
  • Adjust the shape of the bird as you paint the throat, breast, and the rest of the body. These should be darker umber from the throat, going lighter at the underside of the tail. Use another  water-loaded brush to spread the umber colour thinly.

Now–are you challenged to paint something of the same theme? How will you get a new idea so you can paint a different composition of the same theme? Simple–be more informed about Dahlia flowers and the Kentucky Bluebirds. In this case,if you want to know more about Dahlia flowers, go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dahlia.

I can also recommend my collection of Chinese brush paintings about Dahlia which I pinned in my Pinterest board: https://www.pinterest.com/marinabalce/. I’m sure those images can inspire you to make your own painting composition, using Dahlia as your focus object.

You can ‘Google’ images of bluebirds if you want to paint another bluebird species. But, if you want to know more about the Kentucky Bluebird, go to: http://wkms.org/post/western-ky-bluebird-population-weakened-winter-weather#stream/0.

Before I end, I have to tell you this: Dahlias and Kentucky Bluebirds (left), my featured painting here,  was a repeat of my first painting, Dahlias and Visiting Friends (42 cm x 30 cm; watercolour on rice paper) shown on the right. Here’s the story:  When I was just about to finish my first painting, I accidentally splattered green watercolour dots on it–on the petals and three other places where the bees are now. So, how did I ‘repair’ my damaged painting?

This was the advice of Prof Arsenia Lim: Cover all the splattered green dots with poster white. When fully dry, repaint the ones on the petals with vermillion and carmine. And, for those on the unpainted areas, paint hovering bees. I did just so and —voila! My damaged painting was saved! So, don’t give up when your painting gets accidentally damaged. There are ‘salvage techniques’ which your artist friends know and will readily share with you. Now, if the damage is beyond repair, my friend Yeng uses them as gift wrappers. What a creative idea, too!

Qualms about ‘salvage techniques’ in painting? Consider this: Per Kirkeby, a noted Danish painter, says this about the layers in his paintings: “Analysis is about the final layer of the painting, but all the layers are still present. . . . There’s some wreckage in each of my paintings.” Regarding this quote, a noted author, Robert Koehler of Huffington Post, has added: “Paintings are just like life’s journey, from goals and potential to realization. We don’t make that journey without giving up something along.”

There–hope you can have your own composition about Dahlias. Keep practicing so you can control your brush strokes and watercolour loadings. Watercolour painting is one of the best hobbies to sharpen your mind. Blog about your paintings too, and let’s keep exchanging ideas. Hope to hear from you soon.


3 thoughts on “Dahlias and Kentucky Bluebirds

  1. Hello Marina! Congratulations on your new blog! With your ever-growing painting skills and teaching experience I am sure this will be a very good source of information to many striving artists( like me! LOL) Keep it going. I am now a follower! — Beth


    1. Thanks for dropping by, Beth. Looking forward to your blog about your Chinese brush paintings too. I’m sure we can learn much from each other’s painting techniques.


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