Back Porch: #1-3

Joseph Zbukvic is my favorite watercolor artist right now. (I know – how original.) Because I admire his work so much, I watch a lot of videos of him painting whenever I find one on YouTube. I have heard him say a handful of times, “There are no bad subjects, only bad paintings.” I also hear him talk about how important it is to practice drawing in order to improve in watercolor. I took these two to heart, and decided that instead of driving to the country to find a beautiful Plein Air subject, I would look for one in my back yard.

I sat down on my back porch with my sketchbook, and drew the chair across from me. I saw this as a good opportunity to learn more about perspective. The chair has some well defined planes, and so does the flower box. The flowers themselves are very organic, which offers an interesting contrast.

So, I sketched the chair and flower box.

This sketch wasn’t supposed to be a finished or published piece, certainly not anything I would put up for sale, it’s just an opportunity to practice drawing.

At first I was going to leave the support column out of the composition, but it really needed a vertical, without one it felt very forgettable.

In this exercise I realized how important perspective was going to be in this painting. I also learned that because my back yard is pretty small, there wouldn’t be much atmosphere without exaggerating the size of my yard, or removing the fence. Instead, I decided to keep the fence, and try to find a way to create a sense of depth in such a shallow composition.

First Painting


I painted it the first time, trying to keep the color of the chair correct. I like the way this worked, largely because the perspective feels right on the chair. The thing I like most about this is the shadow of the pole on the concrete. That is simply beautiful.

Unfortunately, I then overworked the fence thinking I needed to make it cast a shadow as well. In the end, I should just leave it very simple in order to push it back a little bit.

I also didn’t like the red chair because it doesn’t allow much value contrast in the composition as a whole. So, I decided to simplify and blur the background, and paint the chair white instead of red. I also overworked the flowers, so I knew I would need to take it easy there on the next one. The last thing I didn’t like was the perspective. This is drawn from a point of view standing up above the chair. I don’t like that. So, I decided to push the chair out of the side of the painting, which would also remove the back end of the flower box. Everything on the left side of this composition is unnecessary, so I figured I’d just get rid of it.

Second Attempt

This time I decided to paint the chair white, so I started by masking off the entire chair. I then painted everything in large sweeping washes – one or two passes with a big old brush and let it go. This worked well, especially at the fence.

Unfortunately, the value I went with on the shadowed side of the flower box was much too dark. Which meant I needed to make the shadow on the patio almost black. Then, I didn’t have the courage to make the shadow as dark as it needed to be. I should have painted the box and the shadow with much the same values.

I then used clean water to wet the paper above the fence on the right. I then dabbed some greens, yellows, and blues to the wet paper in an attempt to make distant trees with very soft edges. That worked really well.

Then, I removed the masking fluid. It ripped the paper-I am pretty sure it’s because I used a hair dryer to dry the initial washes. I find the masking fluid comes off perfectly, unless I use a hair dryer. Something happens to the stuff when it gets hot, and it seems to sink deeper into the paper, making it hard to remove without damaging the paper.

Once the masking fluid was removed, I painted the chair. I wanted to keep most of the chair white, so I just used a T3b light blue to add shadows.

Then I went in and painted the flowers. Then I painted the flowers some more. Then I figured they were close to being overworked, so I worked on em. And then they were totally overworked, so I worked on em some more… because I’m an idiot.

I decided that on the next one, I would change the perspective to be nearly eye level with the arms of the chair, and I would not use any masking fluid.

Third Attempt

My third attempt came out ok. I like the perspective, and the flowers. The shadow I don’t like as much – because I had to be careful with it, due to my decision not to mask anything off.

If I were to do this again, I would use packing tape for a frisket on the chair and pole.

When I painted the fence, I left a lot of white space in order to allow the flowers to be painted freshly on bare paper. This turned out to be 100% necessary in order to avoid overworking the flowers.

When that was all done, the background felt super bare. I liked the effect I achieved on the last painting, but wanted to try something else. So, instead of blurry greens and yellows, I decided to paint a loose tree shape in blue. I figured this would add interest, and keep the background in the back. I should have left that tree as a lighter blue, and allowed more edges to blue.

The flowers worked well. At first I wasn’t happy with them, and then I added some very strong Indie Blue to increase contrast in the plants. That addition made the plants so much better.

I like the lines I got on the chair by not relying on masking fluid, but I wasn’t able to paint the shadows well because of it. Next time I need to use frisket, or a different brush on the shadows. It’s imperative that those shadows end up being painted as a single flat wash.

I won’t be trying this one again, because I’m not really huge fan of the subject – a painting of an Adirondack Chair feels tacky. I tried to class it up a bit, but it still feels pretty chincy to me.

Shadow Touch Up

I realized that half of the chair should be in shadow from the roof of the porch – so I painted some shadows on the chair. Now it’s done done.

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