“I Want Something”

It’s a great feeling to be wanted, isn’t it… especially when it comes to art. I’ll admit to feeling quite pleased and a bit proud of my accomplishments on Saturday when my husband and I visited his parents for a little fall family get-together. We had a great fish-fry, got to see many members of my husband’s extended family, and even gathered a few ripe pears — perfect for eating, and perfect, too, for a bit of still-life painting, so don’t be surprised if you see pears appearing here soon.

But before the food and festivities began, my mother-in-law beckoned for me to follow her. “I want something,” she said, and when she followed it up with “…only you can do it,” I knew where we were headed. We were going to her “art wall” where she displays her favorite works of art. One of my watercolors is prominently displayed there, next to a watercolor landscape in a similar style that she found in a thrift store.

Here’s the picture I painted:

As you can see by the date, this was painted five years ago. It was a gift to my father-in-law for his 79th birthday. While he liked the painting, too, my mother-in-law eventually claimed it as her own, and I’ll admit that I feel good every time we visit and I see my artwork hanging on the wall.

The “thriftstore” watercolor is in the center of the wall. My watercolor — smaller — hangs at the right. Now, my mother-in-law wants an additional painting, another smaller one, to hang on the left.

In some ways, doing a second “complementary” painting — similar but different — presents a bit of a challenge for me, simply because the first watercolor was done in 2016. It’s now 2021, and my approach to watercolor has changed a lot. I wasn’t sure if I could really come up with something that would “match” well with the original painting.

I know that what my mother-in-law most loves about the “birch tree in winter” painting is the use of the blue and orange hues. I like the painting, too, for the exact same reasons. Yet I didn’t want to play “copy-cat” and make a painting that would be too close to the original. So… what to do, what to do…?

I thought back to another watercolor I’d done several years ago. This scene was painted soon after the “birch tree” painting:

Could I do something similar to this? Well, maybe, or maybe not. I went to the easel this morning, and using tube watercolors (just as I had for the paintings shown here) I began working on a scene very much like this “tree at the river” painting. I’m not happy with my result.

While I do like the reflections I created in the lake, I’m not happy with the overall composition. It’s a starting point, though. I’m going to browse around a bit for reference photos and maybe I’ll get a better idea of what I want to paint.

Now, though, like my mother-in-law, I want something, too … from you. I want your ideas, your suggestions, your thoughts — on this first painting and on other possible compositions. I’m sure that if I matted and framed this painting, my mother-in-law would be delighted with it and would proudly display it.

I want to paint something else, though, maybe do several paintings so that she can choose for herself. So, what thoughts do you have?

Thank you so much!


      1. I love finding just that one painting that tells me a story. It is what draws me in. I still think of that pen and ink you did of the trees in the winter forest covered with snow. I had never realized until that moment that what I was looking at in winter scenes was what was not there rather than what was there.

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      2. 🙂 It means a lot to me that you remember my drawing. I love your thoughts about it, too. Yes, you’re right. Story-telling is an important aspect in visual art. I want to learn how to build strong narratives in my work.

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  1. Since you say you paint better with photo inspiration, flip through some internet images, find a few you like and paint, paint, paint! Don’t judge yourself or get lost in a sea of self-criticism. Make art, let MIL choose. What you hate, she may love. Go paint!

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    1. That’s exactly what I’m going to do… paint, paint, paint. It’s always so hard to “guess” what someone else might like, so giving her a choice seems like the best approach. I’ll find a few reference photos from Pixabay and have fun in the studio doing watercolor paintings this week. 🙂 Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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  2. So, I do not know what the thrift store painting looks like. I feel I would need to see that to make a suggestion. Perhaps it would present a second “element”, and the third painting would introduce a third “element”, and in someway all three “elements” would all be related. This post is funny to me. With your last post, I almost wrote that the reason I wanted to paint something was because I love white birch bark trees and wanted a painting of them. I believe I even mentioned this in one of my posts. Such a painting would be expensive to buy, and I’d just as soon paint it myself. Those trees remind me of Michigan which I love. In general, my suggestion would be to stick with the birch tree theme. Maybe multiple trees. The tree or trees in a different season. Perhaps a close up of the bark with something in the background (a lake?). Good luck!

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    1. I’m thinking about doing a “wooded” birch scene… with several trees in a grove. The “thriftstore” painting is a lake/mountain scene, so other than being a landscape, there’s not really a common element to tie the three together, but it works for her. 🙂 I’m going to paint several scenes, take them to her, and let her choose which one she’d like to have on the wall.

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  3. I’ll just echo the idea of painting a selection and letting her choose. Sometimes, I’ll make something I am very much less than thrilled with … and friends and family absolutely love.

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    1. So true! I’ve been playing around in the studio this morning, and I’m thinking I’ll do a scene with three trees and a sloped bank… using all the same colors as in the original. I’ve made a “rough draft” of the idea, and I’m loving it. I’ll probably do several variations and then allow her to choose, but at least I’m settled now, I think on the colors and the basic idea. 🙂

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  4. Since there are two other paintings already in place, I would look for some common elements to turn them into a set. A triptych comes to mind, where you have three frames of a broken up scene. Each painting is separate to itself, but they form a panorama when placed in proximity with each other. The other thought that comes to mind is to go for asymmetry and odd numbers for better interest, especially since they are not (originally) a set. So, for example, if you have a single tree and a full landscape, the next one might include three trees that include the types of trees in both. Or perhaps one tree in the cluster leans toward the other two paintings to help pull them together. Look for the common design elements when finding ways to make them “belong” with one another. Think also of size and shape of frame because it could be that rearranging them is the key to making them look like a set. Otherwise, I second the idea of at least doing thumbnails from loads of inspiration photos, and doing a mock placement with her to arrange and rearrange and choose which idea looks best for what she wants. You could do two cards with the base colors and designs of the previously done paintings. And then experiment with multiple suggestions for the one to complement them and turn it into a set. By using cards for the thumbnails, you can literally shape them to size and slide them around on a table top to find a pleasing plan before starting the final painting.

    It sounds like a fun project. Good luck with it! ^_^

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    1. I came to a somewhat similar conclusion… with the idea of looking at an expanded landscape and asking “”What would be on the other side…?” So I just finished doing a “mock-up” draft of three white birch trees leaning toward the right, all using the same colors from the first painting. I think it’s going to be perfect! I’ll still make a couple different versions though and let her choose what she likes best.

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  5. I always have problems with composition, trying to find the balance between compositional guidelines and what nature actually looks like 🙄
    I’ve been looking at the two “tree at the river” paintings and trying to work out why the first one works and the second has issues… I like the far riverbank, I would be tempted to add a smaller green tree just off-centre to break up the orange and avoid that left/right framing of the horizon line. The foreground tree almost looks like a reflection of itself – the two pairs of branches are very similar in size and are placed mid-sky and mid-water whereas on the first painting they are significantly different in size and complexity and they break the horizon line and the top of the frame.
    Your reflections are lovely and the autumnal palette works nicely – this can definitely be improved with a bit of work on that tree.
    Have a search for “bare tree” on Shutterstock for some inspiration, there are some nice silhouettes on this sort of scale in among the full-size trees (I cannot draw a natural looking tree without a reference of some kind).

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    1. I agree about the compositional problems with that second “tree at the river”. I do like the reflections (and the painting actually looks nice with a light green mat), but I’m just not happy with it. So I’ve been playing around in the studio, looking at reference photos, and coming up with ideas that I really like. I’m going to paint a few different scenes, but they will all be using the same colors I used for the original — lucky for me I actually made notes about the birch tree paintings I did back in 2016, so I have the exact color palette written down. 🙂


    1. I thought about doing an autumn scene. I love those colors, too. In the end, though, I think I’ll stick with the winter landscape and birch trees for more continuity. I mentioned in another comment that I actually made notes about the birch tree paintings I did back in 2016. I loved the colors so much, I wanted to be able to use them again. So, I know the exact hues to use, so this second painting will be a different scene, but will have “matching” colors for the first. I’ll do several versions — and probably include a fall foliage scene. She can then choose which one she thinks works best.

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  6. What you manage to do with watercolours is astounding! The background and foreground colour of each painting complement each other. The kind of control that you have managed in making just the trees itself is a very hard thing to achieve! The detail of the barks and the branches shows that you have such a steady hand! That being said, often artists working with watercolours tend to drift away into detail that they don’t stay true the creativity and simplicity of the medium. However, you have achieved an awesome balance! And the reflections are beautiful as well!

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    1. A friend showed a surprising gift for line and wash watercolors. Once, her husband lloked over her shoulder while she was doing a nature study and said, “That doesn’t look like a pinecone.” I told her that if he does that again, she should explain: ” I’m not making a pinecone. I’m making a painting.” It’s all too common to get so caught up in making an exact replica of the source image (or actual scene) that

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      1. OOPS …. we forget that the goal is to make a painting. That means that your inner critic should be judging the painting, making suggestions about proportions, values, contrasts, composition, rhythm, repetition and variety, colors, etc. At some point it’s not about copying what you see; it’s about making a painting…. Keep working and creating!

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      2. I like to think of it more as “painting what I feel” rather than what I see. I want a semblance of realism in my art, but not to an extreme. I know some artists think it’s a compliment if someone says, “Oh, that looks just like a photograph.” To me, that would be totally devoid of creativity. If I want a photo-likeness, I’ll use a camera. 🙂

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    2. Thanks so much. I was very pleased with the reflections… not so happy with the tree. I’ve been playing with a few other ideas, and I’m going to use the same colors as in the original “birch tree” painting and do several scenes. I’ll let my mother-in-law choose which one she thinks will go best.

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