Shell game – Daily Painting

“Shell Game” – Approx 8.5 in. x 6 in. – Watercolor on 140 lb. paper

OK, I lied. I said yesterday that I was mainly working on loosening up with a big brush and soft flowing edges. So what’s the next thing I paint? This.
Actually this is a community project for those of us who are daily painters, suggested by the very talented Laura Wambsgans. I’d love to try one in oils but I stayed in my comfort zone, watercolor. I was planning to break an egg and paint the contents of the shell in a small pyrex cup, but I had no sooner cracked it and set the shell halves down on our quarter-sawn oak dining room table in a shaft of afternoon sunlight that I saw what I wanted to work with.

I found this setup very challenging, but very instructive as well. The dark background is composed of at least a dozen layers of glazes, but no black. I wanted to keep the edges of the shell crisp but I didn’t trust masking so all of those areas were painted around with a very small brush tip. After all the layers were finished I went in with a fine pointed brush to add the “tiger” stripes in the wood which is so characteristic of golden oak. This is one that I wish I had been scanning in stages, but I was trying to push to get it done on time!


  1. Casey
    December 3, 2006

    This one leaves me speechless, Karen. The way you’ve captured the delicacy of the eggshell against those beautiful strong darks in the background is just amazing – and shows your mastery of this technique. No wonder you keep winning prizes! Congratulations.

  2. Shirley
    December 3, 2006

    Your egg is fantastic and such a different approach than taken by most in the EDM group. It is wonderful to see how your work is growing – I love the range of lights and darks you achieve. Congratulations “Artist of the Month.”

  3. Diahn
    December 3, 2006

    Gorgeous. I love the light in this painting, Karen. It may not be loose and soft, but it is beautiful and sparkling! And Congrats on Artist of the Month honor…it’s well deserved!!

  4. lin
    December 3, 2006

    MERCY! GORGEOUS, Karen — simple, elegant, rich with color and definition –!!

  5. Annie
    December 3, 2006

    I’m still at the stage of mixing colors By Guess & By Gosh, Karen, so I am awed by that “black” that isn’t black and how you got a delicate eggshell edge next to it.

  6. Dianne
    December 3, 2006

    Wow, it is beautiful, its often those overlooked things we discard that make the greatest subjects!

  7. Tami
    December 3, 2006

    How loudly can I say WOW! Karen, this is incredible! I think that it would be much more of a challenge in waterxolor than in oils or acrylics. Amazing edges and detail! Glad you shared the working process, makes
    me suspect that I may not be building up enough layers. Hummm something to work on.

  8. Pamela
    December 3, 2006

    That is just wild.

  9. Kate (Cathy) Johnson
    December 3, 2006

    What a challenge! And you rose to the occasion beautifully, it’s lovely! The place where the left edge of the shell positively glows against the shadowed background is gorgeous…

  10. maggie in sc
    December 3, 2006

    superb as usual….been thinking about doing the egg carton with all the broken eggs because they are interesting…..and we only have one whole egg in the house now;> cant waste it cracking it…

  11. Bonnie
    December 3, 2006

    I can’t believe how perfect the “membrane” of the egg looks on the cracked edge of the egg. It looks so real, it’s just amazes me. I love looking at EVERYTHING you do, but this is just awesome. Oh and Congratulations. can’t forget to say that. What an honor, but you’re worth it!!!

  12. Don West
    December 3, 2006

    Beautiful job Karen! It’s fun to become absorbed in the layers isn’t it?

  13. Brenda Yarborough
    December 3, 2006

    WOW! What caught my eye was the beautiful reflection of the shells in the highly polished wood!! This is such a wonderful lesson on allowing distractions to change our direction. You listened to your artist’s eye and ignored your brain’s logic.

  14. Jo Castillo (noblock99)
    December 3, 2006

    What everybody else already said! It is good to paint what inspires you. I find watercolor difficult, and am awed by this. Great job.

  15. TeriC
    December 3, 2006

    Wow, this one knocked my socks off!!! Stunning!

  16. Karen
    December 3, 2006

    Thanks, everyone – Tami, I agree with you, I think oils might have been easier but only if I had done it over several days. I think that edge of dark and light would have gotten pretty muddy if I tried to paint this particular scene all in one go.
    I am planning on doing another egg study in oil, and one in pastel as well, just for the practice and learning experience.

  17. Laura
    December 3, 2006

    Your cracked egg shells are wonderful. I love all the color within the “white’ and the crackeled area of the shell, well I haven’t a clue how you painted that! Very nice work Karen.

  18. lindsay
    December 4, 2006

    Really lovely cracked eggs! Wow, did you have patience to get such a rich glazing of darks! Lovely colors

  19. Jana Bouc
    December 4, 2006

    Wow! Another spectacular one! I love the sharp contrast and the way you’ve conveyed the delicate think egg shells and the deep interior of the shell.

  20. Sandy
    December 4, 2006

    Wow – just fabulous.

  21. Karen
    December 4, 2006

    Thanks, everyone. Jana, (and this relates to your other comment, too – thank you) I find that I am pulled in two directions – toward the impressionistic and also toward the highly rendered realism. Because it is too early for me to decide on one I will probably just have to keep the approaches compartmentalized – maybe landscapes will be impressionistic and loose and the still lifes will be more rendered. It’s a mystery to me so far … I feel that I’m in a very interesting passage in my learning experience …

  22. lee
    December 4, 2006

    Wonderful in its simplicity and mastery.


  23. hfm
    December 4, 2006

    Don’t know how it can be done! Astonishing!

  24. Linda
    December 4, 2006

    Oh WOW. That’s it. Just WOW!

  25. Rachel
    December 6, 2006

    Karen — I can only echo what has already been said…and to add:

    Is this for sale? I’d LOVE IT!

    You’re amazing!

  26. Nancy Coler
    December 7, 2006

    Karen this watercolor is stunning! So glad to see you painted it on good paper too because you should enter it in a competition! It is wonderful beyond words!

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