Viewing: watercolor

Balaton in watercolor

Winter is coming! With chilly gray days that are getting progressively shorter and colder, I’m thinking wistfully about warm waters, richly hued sunsets and long lazy days. That’s why I chose to paint the sunset at Lake Balaton in Hungary, which was my last real taste of summer for the year.

This was particularly easy—it only took me two sessions to complete, and I had lots of fun doing it!

Since I opted to stop going to watercolor class in Haarlem from November onwards. I plan to use the off time from watercolor to get cracking on a few sewing and knitting projects for Little Mango. So, look long and hard… this is going to be my last watercolor project for a while. Hope you like it!

Venice in watercolor

It’s been a while since my last watercolor project. The class went on break for the summer, and I decided not to join any of the outdoor painting sessions my teacher held in place of the regular class. When I went back to Haarlem in September, I decided to continue my travel series with a painting of a Venetian gondola. With the change of seasons, it was my way of saying, “Take me back to Venice in the springtime!”

Here, my biggest struggle was with the interior of the boat, because there was so much crap detail in it. My teacher Penny is a real master at knowing when to be a stickler for detail and when to let go and just splash around, so I had lots of help from her here. She also introduced me to a rather colorful Dutch euphemism for nitpicking: mierenneuken, which literally means, to fuck an ant. Hilarious.

Overall, I’m really happy with it… but I think I’ll go easy on the details when choosing my next subject!

Do you like this month’s watercolor piece? Does it feel like spring in Venice to you?

Lake Bled in watercolor

My watercolor project for May took me back to one of the loveliest places I’ve seen this year: Lake Bled in Slovenia.

Painting the lady in red stretched me; this landscape seemed easy in comparison. I enjoyed learning how to take artistic license with color: looking for hints of color and amplifying them in order to turn a memory from cloudy gray to fresh and vivid.

Question: do you watermark your photos? I’m considering doing that, though it seems like a lot of work. I thought I could start with the watercolors and see how it goes. This experiment with watermarking has made me realize that I haven’t signed or dated any of my watercolors in the past year. Ooopsy.

Also, I’m wondering if I should start painting a travel series. I experimented with animals and fashion because I got bored with landscapes for a while, but I’ve since realized a travel series wouldn’t necessarily have to be all landscapes. Which of my travels should I paint next?


I found this photo of Rogue that captures one of my favorite expressions of hers. I would say it was crying out to be translated into watercolor, but that wouldn’t be completely accurate. 
It was more like it was looking at me, head cocked to one side, with a quizzical look in its big green eyes. “Why don’t you paint me?” it seemed to be saying. So I did. 

You know what they say about cats and curiosity. What they don’t say is that curiosity can be irresistibly adorable. 

Paint it black

Spring is finally here, and my own personal travel “season” is about to start. Since I’m going to be away often over the next two months, I didn’t want to start a new watercolor project (which normally takes a few weeks). So the objective of my last class was to finish something fast. 
My subject of choice: a certain black cat named Rogue. 

Her proportions are a bit wonky, but you’ll have to forgive me as I didn’t even do a sketch for this one. I pretty much started splashing around with a big brush, as my teacher wishes I would do more often. But I think this captures her cranky/evil look pretty well; it’s the one she pulls when she’s sleepy and I’m trying to play with her.

It’s an interesting exercise to paint black without actually having black in my palette: I used indigo, brown, and a touch of red. I plan to use it as a study for a bigger, more carefully considered portrait of my pet (cat-rait? Pet-rait?). But in the meantime, I have some traveling to do! #excited

Lady in red

Based on a vintage-inspired editorial from an old issue of Preview, this lady in red has been my watercolor project for the whole month of February. I had been feeling uninspired by the usual landscapes that we do in class, and recalling how much I enjoyed doing my first fashion illustration, I decided to try another fashion-influenced project.

At the end of each class, I would take a photo of the day’s work. It helped me see what I needed to fix and improve before moving on. For example, looking at this photo of the initial sketch helped me shift her features from fully Pinay to more Chinese, and fix the proportions of the body before getting the paint in.

Getting the sketch right and painting in the underlayers was slow work, but it all took off when I laid in that brilliant red in week three. Now that was fun…

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Watercolor Christmas cards

Success! I’ve mailed out my Christmas cards for the year. Yes, I’m one of those people that still sends out Christmas cards via snail mail. It’s usually a struggle to get them out on time, but this year I managed my to do it!
I knew I wanted to make my own cards this year. And I knew I wanted to combine watercolors with hand lettering. So I set out my watercolors, tore out a few pages from my watercolor sketch pad, and played around with them one rainy afternoon. These were some of the cards I came up with. Apologies for the bad lighting, Amsterdam has been immersed in this weak gray gloom all week. 

Yes, the designs are pretty simple and it’s a very small batch of cards (plus a couple that I didn’t photograph). But each one is unique and is made with love and care. Which one do you like best?

Oh, and I also made the envelopes myself, as all the cards are odd sizes. I used this festive Japanese washi tape with polka dots (my current obsession) to seal the envelopes.

And now my cards are winging their way to Belgium, the UK and Singapore. Fly swift, my pretties, and spread the Christmas cheer!

Just a girl

Now that I’m done with Cappadocia, I can move on to blogging about Istanbul! But before that, I thought I’d take a breather to put up the fashion illustration I finished last week in watercolor class.

Penny has been pushing me to let to go of my nitty-gritty details and learn a faster, looser style that uses more brushwork than drawing. One of the ways to do that is to copy a work done in that style. I chose this piece to study because I’ve always been interested in fashion illustration, and I was getting a little bored with landscapes.

I had lots of fun with this girl, and she taught me a lot! I learned simply by looking at this piece and analyzing how it’s done (how the colors are mixed and how layers are built up), before attempting it myself. She didn’t take too much time at all, and I felt very relaxed and free painting her. I’m looking forward to doing more of her kind, and applying the style to my own original illustrations. 

A pop of (water)color

I’m usually pretty impatient when it comes to making things. If it can’t be done in one sitting, I tend to rush it or just give up altogether. So I consider it a big achievement to have spent three consecutive Tuesdays working on a painting for my watercolor class. I finished it last week, left it to dry in my teacher’s studio in Haarlem, and finally brought it home!

This is the first painting that I’ve produced out of this class that I enjoyed doing from start to finish and am really, truly happy with. My first few lessons were a little awkward and unsure; with this work, I feel I’ve hit my stride and grown in confidence and technique.

I’ve gotten quite a few compliments from Penny on this, and it’s been great to walk into the studio on Tuesday afternoons and find my other classmates—my geriatric barkada, LOL—gathered around my work and talking enthusiastically about it.

My favorite bits are the flowers, naturally. I love how the red flowers really pop, thanks to the contrast of the dark green around it. (I think I’m getting better with contrast!) I did the pink flowers by dipping a rough natural sponge in some green paint and blotting it quickly on a wet, watered-down red wash.

Penny remarked that my style is turning out to be more illustrative than painterly—nothing wrong with that, just a matter of style. To help soften the whole painting, she suggested painting over the stark white background with a quick wash of pale green blurred with lots of water.

Voila, the finished work!

Do you like it? Tell me what you think!

Courtyard cats

Two weeks, two trips to France and a house full of guests later… I’m back! So much has happened that I would love to blog about. But first let me catch up on a blog post that I was working on before I left to attend Mimi and Pete’s wedding in the south of France.
I had my first outdoor watercolor class on one of those sunny days that are proving so rare in this Dutch summer. Penny arranged for us to paint at the Frans Loenenhofje on Witte Herenstraat in Haarlem. Okay, I know that’s a rather large gaggle of letters—let me explain. 
A hofje is a courtyard around which rent-free houses, called alms houses, are clustered. Dating back to the Middle Ages, hofjes were built by wealthy families as a form of charity, where places where the elderly (usually women, mostly religious) could live for free. 
Living rent-free depended on a number of conditions such as religion, gender and income; Amsterdam’s most centrally located (and most famous) hofje, the Begijnhof, forbids its female residents to have overnight male visitors, partners, husbands or children. (Amsterdam Magazine gives a great glimpse into the house of a Begijnhof resident.)
Many of these houses still exist. The best thing for those of us who are not privileged enough to earn residence in these hofjes is that their courtyards are open to the public daily, usually between the hours of 10am to 5pm. 
And this is what I love about hofjes—entering one is like pulling open a random door to find a special secret garden. Some, like the Begijnhof, are unmarked, so it’s only when you push the right door or gate that you are rewarded with the sweet little thrill of finding it unlocked. 
Inside, chances are you’ll find a small courtyard that’s charming, tranquil and beautifully maintained, with well-planted gardens that, like everything else here in Holland, simply spring to life in the sunshine. 
This particular hofje Penny arranged for us to paint in was built for those of the Lutheran faith, with a Lutheran church within its grounds. 
It also had plum trees and apple trees, which I’ve never seen before. Some of the plums were just beginning to ripen.
But aside from the tranquility, history and lushness of these courtyard homes, I found yet another pleasant surprise that endeared this particular hofje to me. Cats!

Contented, fat, well-fed cats everywhere!

I remarked on this to my painting classmate, Louis, a genteel old Dutch man. “Well,” he said after a thoughtful pause. “You know how it is. These houses are full of old women. And you know about old women and their cats.”

I could have played with these kitties all afternoon, but then I remembered I had some painting to do.

My favorite was this adorable orange-and-white kitty stretched out on top of an old brick wall. She was snoozing contentedly in the sun and looked perfect against the fluffy white clouds and crisp blue sky.

She must have sensed the little old lady in me, because she woke up for a cuddle when I walked up to her.

Then she started squirming and rolling around in the sun. I melted.

Even Dutch cats seem to know better than to waste a single ray of sunshine!