My Chinatown – in 39th annual Watercolor West

“Chinatown, My Chinatown” – 16″ x 12.5″ (before framing) – watercolor on paper

I came home from Descanso Gardens yesterday to a very special surprise. My painting “Chinatown, my Chinatown,” has been selected for the 39th annual Watercolor West show which will open December 6 at the Riverside Art Museum.

Watercolor West is a national transparent watercolor society, which means that the painting must be done with pure transparent watercolor – no opaque white paint, gouache, acrylic, collage, ink or other materials can be used. In past years there have been about 1000 entries, from which 100 paintings are chosen. I don’t know the facts for this year, yet, but that’s been the trend. With the acceptance of this painting into the show, I will become a Juried member of the society.

I painted this a few months ago using reference photos that I took in LA’s Chinatown. I used exaggerated color for the purpose of increasing the mood of fun and excitement. Complementary colors (red against green, orange next to blue) create energetic contrasts.

The sky was the first thing painted, with the painting upside down so the paint wouldn’t run into the building area. After that, the various elements of the buildings were “carved” out, reserving the whites.

The banner in the upper right hand corner was invented to confine that corner to keep the eye from going off the paper. The hanging streamers direct the eye back into the composition. Strong diagonals, as created by the lanterns and tops of building add to the feeling of energy.

The center of interest, of course, is the two small figures of mother and child walking through the scene. These figures were invented to link the foreground, middleground and background. Notice how the mother’s head intersects the background building and how her cast shadow touches the major shadow cast across the foreground. In fact, just about everything in the picture is linked through the overall value pattern

Rhythmic elements include the repetition of the lanterns from foreground to background, as well as the striping on the underside of the eaves and suggestion of rooftiles. It’s easy to get carried away with decorative elements, which usually come in the final stages of painting. The tassels on the banner in the upper right echo the windows in different parts of the picture.

I think that it’s worth mentioning that even though I rarely do architectural subjects, I intentionally avoided using any straightedges or other aids in painting this so as not to get caught up into a stiff, controlled feeling. In my opinion, the unevenness of the buildings suggests their age and adds to the liveliness of the subject.

I have mentioned frequently on this blog how fond I am of California scene painting of the 1930s through 1950s. This painting is my homage to the great painters of that era, to whom we are most indebted.


  1. Laura
    October 4, 2007

    Oh, Karen, this is fantastic!!! It just glows! Love, love, love it! Congratulations on a so well deserved honor!

  2. Felicity
    October 4, 2007

    Congratulations Karen! I second Laura’s comments, it really glows and it amazes me how vibrant transparent watercolour can look! Sounds like life is very good for you right now – long may it continue!

  3. Bonny in BC
    October 4, 2007

    Karen, Congratulations on being accepted for such an honour! Wow! It all sounds so grand and exciting!
    Your painting reminds me of the community lifestyle of the Chinese. They do a lot for the community generally but they keep their traditions and customs as well. Your painting really shows that with the lanterns and charaters on the banner. Also I think you’ve really captured a sense of history, too.
    This is a wonderful painting! Congratlations!

  4. gabi campanario
    October 4, 2007

    congratulations Karen! i love your painting, very sophisticated colors, and the woman and kid on the street add the perfect scale and human touch

  5. Kate (Cathy) Johnson
    October 4, 2007

    Oh, wonderful! So colorful and calligraphic, no WONDER it got in the show! It’s beautiful, Miss Karen…

  6. Lydia
    October 4, 2007

    Congratulations on WW that’s awesome! the piece is very much the California Scene style. Love the oils too.

  7. wendy
    October 4, 2007

    That’s so cheerful with those pinks. You are doing well, not just a closet painter like some of us who don’t frame the pics and put out there.

  8. Terry Banderas
    October 5, 2007

    Great colors! Nice Painting. It’s always great to have your work chosen.

  9. Nancy
    October 5, 2007

    Congratulation’s …. this glows.

  10. teric
    October 5, 2007

    Fantastic!! This IS an exciting painting and love the colors and the design of the whole picture. Congrats on all your achievements this year!!!

  11. Nancy
    October 5, 2007

    Kudos, and a well deserved entry and juried ACCEPTENCE

  12. Nancy
    October 5, 2007

    Woops, I posted my comment too soon….. I also wanted to thank you for the wonderful art lesson describing how you composed and painted this LA Chinatown scene. It sure does capture the essence of the place Karen!

  13. Linda
    October 17, 2007

    Yay! 2007 is YOUR year, girl! This is just a fantastic painting, with it’s wonderful color and light and composition. CONGRATULATIONS!

  14. Sherie
    January 6, 2008

    Karen, this is just gorgeous. I just love the colors. Beautiful!

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