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Tumbling Down – Karen Winters daily painting

January 22nd, 2008

“Tumbling Down” – 10 x 14 – mixed media on watercolor paper (wc and acrylic)

Last night, after I decided to stop working on an oil painting (for the moment), I took out a watercolor pad and thought I’d experiment with some of what I heard Jerry Stitt talking about – painting what things are “doing” rather than literally what they look like. This was the result.

I started with big bold washes with a wide hake (goat hair?) brush, and then started layering with other watercolor washes. I dropped thick paint into wet areas and let it run. I used the edge of a flat brush to sculpt some of the rocks. Dry brush was added here and there for foliage. Most of the white of the waterfall was the reserved white of the paper.

After the watercolor was dry, I went back in with acrylic (both diluted and full strength) to add more crevices to the rocks and to add to the spray effect over dark rocks. Knowing that I was going to include acrylic, I didn’t use any masking.

I only vaguely used a reference photo as a starting point and to understand the flow of the cascade. Most of the rocks were made up as the paint did its own thing and I needed to respond to it. That’s something else that I found fascinating from Stitt’s demo – he did his paintings completely out of his head based on his response to a very quick gestural drawing and what the paint was doing on the paper. Stitt has been painting for so many years that his knowledge of land forms is vast, so in a sense he’s relying on an internal reference library and a near photographic memory. But what he says is true. At a certain point in a particular painting you need to make the painting work and forget trying to match a scene “out there” in reality. I observed the same ability with watercolorist Barbara Nechis who invented landscapes as she painted … again building upon years of experience as a painter and observer of nature. This is yet another reason to keep a sketchbook and draw nature wherever you go. By this simple act you are committing nature to memory.


  1. There’s lots of energy here, nothing static or boring in any way, despite being a familiar subject. I’m very interested in combining the watercolor and acrylic. Sometimes achieving that sort of dark value in plain watercolor is difficult.

    Comment by sherry — January 22, 2008 @ 9:14 am
  2. This is awesome

    Comment by Lee Johnson — January 22, 2008 @ 9:23 am
  3. Thanks,
    Sherry yes, getting a really opaque dark can be challenging – so it doesn’t look like mud. The opaque black acrylic did the trick

    Comment by Karen — January 22, 2008 @ 9:30 am
  4. Wow Karen this is amazing. I can sit and “watch” your watefall. You can really feel the movement of the water.

    Comment by Genine — January 22, 2008 @ 10:40 am
  5. Just beautiful – so expressive, full of motion. And those rich dark colours — in short, wow!

    Comment by Nancy — January 22, 2008 @ 11:14 am
  6. That is an awesome idea. I will try it out myself. Your results are inspiring.

    Comment by shea — January 22, 2008 @ 12:39 pm
  7. Hi again. This is truly brilliant. What a concept to work with, the ACTIVITY of a scene, rather than the LOOK of it. Marvelous. Could you email EDM with the links to the tutorials you mention? Blessings!

    Comment by Joanie — January 22, 2008 @ 1:37 pm
  8. Karen, this has a wonderful energy and expression. Very direct and I love the colors.

    Comment by lindsay — January 22, 2008 @ 4:59 pm
  9. This is absolutely terrific Karen – and your commentary is spot on.

    And I can hear the water!!!

    Comment by Katherine — January 22, 2008 @ 5:50 pm
  10. Thanks everyone. Joanie, I’m sorry there aren’t any links to tutorials. I saw those artists demonstrating live at workshops, so it’s all in my head – not in a book nor on the net. I do try to share what I’m learning here, so check back for more tidbits.

    Comment by Karen — January 22, 2008 @ 6:01 pm
  11. Super work, Karen. A real sense of rushing water here.

    Comment by Detlef — January 22, 2008 @ 6:02 pm
  12. Karen this is a very nice piece. Up close it is abstract. step back and it melds into exactly what it is, a lively waterfall. That is what makes a piece interesting to me. It seems to be more of a challenge to create a piece that accomplishes that, especially in watercolor. Oils are more suited to it. Perhaps the combination of watercolor and acrylics is the answer for gaining the effect in watercolor? Sargent was a master at it. He used a bit of gouache here and there.

    Great job!

    Comment by Don — January 22, 2008 @ 6:51 pm
  13. Don, you are so right about Sargent – now that you mention it. Although I like the challenge of reserving the whites, there’s surely something to be said for using whatever works to create the right effect – including using opaque colors where necessary. It certainly does allow you to work with a piece and bring things forward and push things back.

    Comment by Karen — January 22, 2008 @ 7:01 pm
  14. That is a very interesting post on photographic memory!

    Comment by mem — January 22, 2008 @ 7:26 pm
  15. I reallly like this piece!Great technique. You can almost hear the water tumbling down the falls.

    Comment by Jeff Kennedy — January 22, 2008 @ 8:13 pm
  16. And the brush just took over and the lines took over and it turned out beautiful. Let the media do the talkin! And then be patient and add more paint after a bit of thought. Way to go.

    Comment by wendy — January 22, 2008 @ 8:24 pm
  17. Karen, an exceptional work. You know, we paint and paint, and every once in a while we get not just a good painting but a gem. This is that. It sparkles with energy and spontaneity and vibrant harmony. Like an exceptional performance by a pianist; something happens and it goes better than right.
    One of my teachers once told me that painting is like walking down a country road, moment by moment wondering what you’ll find next. Stephen Quiller calls it “listening to the painting.” Painting is much more than copying. And, yes, plein air is more than copying too. We’re out there to record internally what nature looks like, until nature is in our blood, so to speak, until our painting flows with the fluency of nature’s language. Nature is the real artist. Nevertheless, much as we admire her, nature is there for us, to nurture us, and in that sense serves us, just as we serve her.

    Comment by Bill — January 22, 2008 @ 11:10 pm
  18. Oh wow, Karen! So alive and expressive and dynamic and bright! Stunning! :)

    Comment by Wendee — January 23, 2008 @ 10:48 am
  19. this is lovely with a freshness and great sense of movement :>)

    I like working this way in the studio too, having worked plein air observing there is alot of information that sticks in the memoery and it’s distilled to the essentials. :>)

    Comment by vivien — January 23, 2008 @ 11:26 am
  20. Karen,
    This is a very impressive painting. I enjoy the way you have simplified everything and really captured the motion of the water.

    Comment by Rob Burkhard — January 23, 2008 @ 5:46 pm
  21. Awesome piece! Incredible sense of movement and energy.

    Comment by Ann — January 23, 2008 @ 8:10 pm
  22. This is absolutely gorgeous, I love the movement and the colours that are all so alive. Wonderful!

    Comment by Mariana — January 24, 2008 @ 9:21 am
  23. This is such a wonderfully fresh painting, and so full of movement. I enjoyed reading your comments about the value of developing an inner library of knowledge about nature in order to be able to be creative with it. It’s so true how much sketching helps–it requires such close observation and then those details become available later (I hope…I’m definitely not there yet with landscapes!) I haven’t been by for awhile and am impressed with your continued commitment to daily painting and posting.

    Comment by Jana Bouc — January 27, 2008 @ 12:22 am
  24. Wow – the effects of light and water belting down are realler than reality. Thanks for passing on the lesson too, to stop slavishly copying a scene and let the paints work, and the painting become its own entity. One to remember

    Comment by Cathy Gatland — January 28, 2008 @ 5:05 am
  25. I’m not sure what I can say that hasn’t already been said above. What a wonderful peice.

    Comment by Nicole — January 28, 2008 @ 10:10 pm
  26. This is absolutely gorgeous! It captures the energy of nature… the colors, the movement, everything. Wow!

    Comment by carla — February 1, 2008 @ 6:12 am

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