Notes on Editing: Flowers II (Part I)

Flowers II 092018

I like the bright colors and the pinks and greens are a good contrast, but I’m far enough away from having drawn it to have a vague sense of it looking “amateurish.” But what does that word mean? And can I get away with it? I may have been thinking of “naive art,” but there is a fine line between “amateur” and “naive.” The first encourages you to change things, while the second ignited an entire art movement.

Let me first look up “naive art.” … Okay, according to our much beloved Wikipedia, “Naïve art is any form of visual art that is created by a person who lacks the formal education and training that a professional artist undergoes (in anatomy, art history, technique, perspective, ways of seeing).”[1]

Well, I can always say I’m “authentic,” as in I am a bona fide amateur. But how can this be art? …

Back to Wikipedia… “Naïve art is recognized, and often imitated, for its childlike simplicity and frankness.[2] Paintings of this kind typically have a flat rendering style with a rudimentary expression of perspective.[3]”

So… It’s imitated by artists who have had formal training in the arts. Which means… “they know what they’re doing.” Sorry, that’s another one of those phrases that get tossed around. Like being “happily surprised” by the results of one’s work in the context of other work having been criticized for being “contrived.” We praise an artist who discovered something, meaning one does not know what one is doing, and criticize an artist for knowing exactly what one is doing (and letting it show in one’s work) which can look “formulaic.” And when looking for the “it” factor, please don’t say, “You’ll know it when you see it.” That’s not helpful.

… Maybe the only way an artist can know what any of this jargon means is by actual experience with producing and evaluating one’s own art and critically seeing others’ art from an artists’ point of view.

So… back to “Flowers”… I admit… I am not “getting away with” … anything. Even for “naive art,” it’s not done well, because the elements of the work lack follow through, and in the end, it shows signs that I did not know what I was doing.

  1. There are streaks in the watercolor, which if done intentionally, could’ve been used to create the illusion of volume. Not that I wanted volume; I wanted solid blocks of color, for which gouache would’ve been good. OTOH, having time to think about it, I’ve decided against using gouache, because I like the translucency of the watercolor of the vases and the flowers often overlap with the vases; and I have other plans for the flowers anyway.
  2. The perspective isn’t only rudimentary. It’s inconsistent. You don’t see a table, but it’s implied the vases are standing on some surface, by virtue of the tops of the vases being visible and elliptical and the vases being somewhat three dimensional. Some of the flowers are also seen at an angle.  So it’s not flat and for the perspective which is there, I failed to follow through. On a more positive note, I’m glad I did not add the details of a surface, and instead allowed for it to only be implied, as I would have had to work that into the composition, as something else that interacts in lines, shapes and colors with the vases and flowers, and that would have been too much. It’s enough to only have vases vs flowers.
  3. Coloring in the flowers freezes the fluidity of the lines. What I liked about the flowers, from the beginning, was there fluidity, and yet (maybe because I was thinking of the flatness of “naive art”), I decided to color them in. The fluidity implies volume, which is three dimensional, while coloring them in makes them flat and two dimensional.. Moreover, once drawn in, some of the flowers lost their sense of being flowers.

Flowers, Edit 1, flowers detail

Over all, I had the problem of being inconsistent, which can lead to the vague criticism of being “amateurish” or “it lacks confidence” or “it lacks focus” or “it follow through.” If I wanted solid blocks of color, I should’ve found a way to make that happen. OTOH, if I wanted the fluidity of the lines, I should’ve found a way to make that work. Same with the perspective. If I didn’t want perspective to rule over this drawing, I shouldn’t have given each object a given angle. However, having given each object an angle, I should’ve followed through with all of them being seen from varying angles, according to how far away the viewer is away from each.

Here goes attempt #2

I made a carbon copy of the original.

Flowers, original , carbon copy.JPG

Flowers, Edit 1.JPG

This was in pencil, of course, on which I could then edit the perspective as well as the composition. There seemed to be too many flowers — a case of “less is more” — which made it “cluttered.” Sorry, more jargon. What I mean is… the flowers were overpowering the vases, and taking out a couple of them allows the vases to be the focal point and compete equally with the flowers.*

This was done on drawing paper and saved as a copy of the second version, below.

Flowers, original.JPG

I then prepared a sheet of watercolor paper by giving it seven washes of tea. (It turns out that I’d been using red tea and not green tea.) It creates a yellowish hue, which I like more than the bright white I began with because it’s more “muted” (or bright white has a greater contrast with the other colors), and doesn’t call as much attention to the negative space… which I have a lot of.*

I’ve also decided to use ink for the flowers, which I intend to fill in with hashes. The translucency of the watercolor is an integral part of how the flowers and vases interact with each other, and using lines not only (1) maintains a sense of translucency, it maintains (2) the fluidity of the original idea for each flower. Now, if I were to only portray the flowers as outlines, as seen below, they may look “unfinished.” Sorry… What I mean is… the flowers have to be substantial enough to compete with the vases. I also cannot forget that the contrast between the pinks and greens was a major element in and of itself and an integral part of the interaction between the flowers and vases. Using red ink (3) will be as good of a contrast as the various shades of pink and (4) filling in details with hashes adds volume helps the flowers compete equally with the vases.*

Flowers, Edit 1, flowers in ink only.JPG

To be continued…


* The paragraphs which are followed with an asterisk were edited 11/29/18.


The below references are for the quotes from Wikipedia and taken from the Wikipedia page on Naive art.

  1. Benedetti, Joan M. (19 April 2008). “Folk Art Terminology Revisited: Why It (Still) Matters”. In Roberto, K. R. Radical Cataloging: Essays at the Front. McFarland. p. 113. ISBN 978-1-4766-0512-8.
  2.  Walker, John Albert (26 April 1992). Glossary of Art, Architecture, and Design Since 1945. London: Library Association Publishing. p. 433. ISBN 978-0-85365-639-5OCLC 26202538.
  3. Matulka, Denise I. (2008). “Anatomy of a Picture Book: Picture, Space, Design, Medium, and Style § Naïve Art”A Picture Book Primer: Understanding and Using Picture Books. Westport: Libraries Unlimited. p. 80. ISBN 978-1-59158-441-4OCLC 225846825.


Salvaging some old work. I drew “Vendor” in 2009 and applied ink in 2010. I kept making the lines thicker and thicker, because I couldn’t get the outside edges smooth enough . I think I botched the lower left-hand corner too, so I cut it off and glued another piece of drawing paper to the back of it, to make it a whole rectangle again. (So desperate was I to make it work.)

Well, after eight relatively uneventful years, i decided to try again. I made a carbon copy in pencil, applied ink, and then added another figure to balance out the composition.

Vendors 110418

I was tempted to use circle stencils to make perfect circles for the heads, but they looked a little too perfect.

I used a ruler for the straight lines and the circle stencils to make partial circles until I completed the head, shoulder and… pop-belly (?) of the top most figure, but I had to go by eye for the heads of the other figures. I kept making the “lines” thicker and thicker again, but I didn’t get heavy handed (yay!), which I did for the original.

… and that’s it.

Happy holidays, everyone 🙂


Drawing paper (Strathmore 400)

Bic fine gel pen


Trees Don 101818

Here’s another version of Don. Getting better acquainted with applying ink onto paper. Very flexible medium. Training myself to be as gentle as I can be… like a whisper of dandelion blowing through the wind… sigh… Or like a machine set at a certain height above the surface. Any random shake or spasm in the hand and you have to do another layer of ink to make up the difference in how dark one line is compared to all others.


For a discussion about Don and previous versions, please see Trees and More Trees.


Ink (Blic fine gel pen)

Water color paper (Strathmore 400)



Zen Drawings on Patreon

GW Sketchbook Dress 1

Zen drawings from my sketchbook are now available on Patreon. The above drawing is  “Dress” and below is “Study of a Bag.” Both of them were originally drawn in 2009.

GW Sketchbook Study of a Bag 1

I’ve made carbon copies of each onto ribbed Japanese rice paper using a good old fashioned pencil and some tracing paper. Then I applied ink and erased the pencil. The line work is a little different than the original, but mostly the same.


Ink (Cross pen/ink)

Japanese rice paper

Trees on Patreon

I’ve created a personal account on Patreon, where I humbly offer a limited edition of George, Lenny and Val for sale.

It’s been a learning process but these trees have come a long way. They are each a product of automatic drawing, as well as some minor editing.

George (above, left) has not gone through much editing, or none for which I have pictures… and I credit beginner’s luck. But Lenny (above, right) has been a a bit of a problem child. (Please see “More Trees” for Lenny’s story.) Then there is Val (below). She’s also received some editing.

Trees Val 1, Val 2 102218.JPG

The one on the left is Val 1 and on the right is Val 2. I made some small changes to the line work, so the distribution of the black spaces can flow better. I also gave it a lighter wash.

Moreover, the ink has a smooth finish. Before I was very heavy handed, like I was molding the paper like it was a sculpture. Now, the end result has no grooves (that I can see) and the ink is more evenly applied… although with the close-up, I can see there are some small specks I still have to fill in.

Trees George scan detail 102218

Above is a close-up of a scan I took of George and below is a close-up of a scan of Val.

Trees Val 2 Scan detail 102218

George was the second tree I drew. Only when I did a second version of Don did I realize how smooth the ink could be. (More about more about Don later. I have bigger plans for him.)


Water color paper (Strathmore 400)

Fine gel pen

Tea (Best Tea, as a wash)

More Trees


You could say this past week has been a lesson in the value of knowing my materials before committing to them. As you can see, the ink on the version on the left leaked out of the lines after I applied a wash (Lipton tea), so I redrew it.

This is Lenny, by the way. Between the two versions, above, the line work and where I applied the ink is a little different but… it’s still Lenny… or Lenny 2.

Trees Lenny 101518To the left is Lenny 3 or Lenny 2 with a wash. I applied the wash seven times, so I could see the difference between using the tea for George (seven washes of Best Tea, a Taiwanese brand) and Lipton. If not for this little experiment, I would’ve stopped at four or five washes, because at six, the lower left hand corner started getting splotchy; as in, the tea started to stain the inside fibers and made it darker than the rest of the surface.

On the far left is George and in the middle is Lenny 3. On the far right is a close up of the lower left-hand corner of Lenny 3. I guess I could just trim the edges, but… there’re also the tea streaks. I don’t know if you can see them. They’re finally beginning to fade after the seventh wash. This happened with Val and Don (below) as well, and all after the first wash. No additional streaks stained the paper after any additional washes were applied. I’m guessing that after the first wash, the fibers have been saturated… ?

Sigh. Knowing how to apply a smooth wash seems basic, but it’s proving more tricky than I thought it would be.

Trees Val 100618Well, moving on. To the left, we have Val. She is also a brand new tree.  (Yay!) For the ink, I went back to a fine gel pen, which I also used on George. It does not leak, but applying it can wear down one’s hands because the ink doesn’t come out as readily as from the other pen. Time flies by once I get going, even when my hands are sore. I have to remind myself to take breaks and to not apply so much pressure. Moreover, lighter and more abundant lines will yield a smoother finish.

Trees Don 101218To the right is Don (who first appeared with other trees in the previous post). He and Val have similar proportions, but Don has bigger moves. He’s also bigger in size. He is 12 3/4″ x 13″ and Val is 9 3/4″ x 11.”

I knew the ink would leak before applying the wash, but I wanted to see how it would turn out. The verdict? Not as well as it did for Lenny. I can pass off the leaks in Lenny 3 as Lenny being in the rain or fog or being a willow tree, but I can’t make those excuses for Don, because (a) he doesn’t have as much detail and (b) he didn’t have as much of the water soluble ink (as I’d used a Sharpie to fill in the larger areas), so, as a result, the leaks occurred more sporadically and did not do enough to create patterns or develop into a language of its own.

Overall, I think the trees do pretty well as smaller drawings. Lenny is, by the way, 8 3/4″ x 10″ … give or take a couple millimeters.


Lenny 1 (with leaks): Bic fine gel pen (for outline), Pilot “Precise V5” rolling ball, extra fine (for larger areas), Lipton tea (applied as a wash x4).

Lenny 2 (without leaks): Bic fine gel pen. No wash.

Lenny 3 (without leaks): Same as Lenny 2 plus Lipton tea (x7)

Don (with leaks): Same as Lenny 1 (but Lipton tea was applied five times) plus a black Sharpie.

Val: Same as Lenny 2 plus Lipton tea (x7).



Meet Simon. He’s one of a handful of trees I drew this week.

Initially, I only wanted to draw something in ink and then add a tea wash. In other drawings, the tea wash made the ink brighter, like it was glowing. I wanted to see if I could do it again.

After applying ink, I wasn’t very happy with Simon. The trunk was too thin. The branches seemed too safe, in that they stayed away from each other; there was no interaction. And then, the black of the trunk just stopped at the circle, so that the circle seemed to be doing something I didn’t intend for it to do.**

I immediately drew another tree on another, larger surface. Even while drawing Simon, I was getting ambitious… and a little side-tracked.


The first tree, George, is on the bottom-left. Frank, who I drew on a separate sheet of paper before transferring him to the same surface as George, is on the upper-right. And Don is in the middle. There is a balance I need to find between the trees, which I haven’t yet, so this is as far as I’ve gotten.

Trees Simon 092918

I’m thinking of putting leaves over parts of George, because he has a little too much detail, and I like the bigger moves of Frank and Don; there are fewer lines and you get more cohesiveness. It’s a case of “less is more.”

(The first drawing of Frank is to the right and, below, there are now four trees, but it looks a little crowded.) Trees b

I’ve also transferred George onto a smaller surface and have gone back to my original idea of making a simple ink drawing with a tea wash.

I added some line work to the trunk, to break it up a little, which developed into another motif and its interaction with the branches. So there are the following interactions: the line work (branches vs. trunk, branch vs branch, line of trunk vs. line of trunk), the color distribution of the branches vs the color distribution of the trunk and, overall, the path of the black spaces vs that of the white.

Trees George 093018 d

This is George with about seven washes of tea. I somehow made the wash for the other drawings much darker, a golden brown, but I also made them splotchy. I had to stop adding more washes to George because the bottom edge seemed to be getting darker than the rest of the surface, meaning it was starting to seep into the inside fibers and is on the brink of getting splotchy.

Trees George 093018 d (2)

Here’s George next to a clean surface. It’s about a shade darker.

I got a clean, even wash (finally) by swiping my brush once across the very top edge and working my way down. With each swipe, I cleared the excess tea while applying more. Lines appear when you let the edge of a new wash dry in the middle of the surface, or when you use something to blot out the wash. This sounds obvious… but it took me a while.

** I have since decided that Simon is simply Simon… and I shouldn’t be so judgy. I have also realized that I’ve subconsciously made circles a default motif; if I can’t think of anything to interact with a given motif, like trees, I’ll add circles to represent, in this case, sun light or the circles you might see from staring at the sun directly. It feels very natural, but I’m weary of getting lazy.

Moreover, I don’t think I would be so conscious of this and any decisions regarding circle motifs if it weren’t for this blog… so that’s interesting.


Ink (fine gel pen, black)

Water color paper (Strathmore 400)

Tea (as a wash)


Sirens III

This week, I did another version of Sirens. I had wanted to color this in for a while but wasn’t sure how. I began with a carbon copy, which I didn’t take a picture of, but I think it was fairly close to Sirens II (below).

022810 Sirens II b

Sirens II (2010)

It turned out really well and I was waffling on painting it because since taking the above photo, Sirens II has somehow gotten splattered (2 to 3 pin drops) with water color… aaargh! It would’ve been nice to have a cleaner version, but then again, I was curious to see how this would turn out.

Sirens III 092618 (1)

I began by darkening the thicker graphite lines with Chinese ink (applied with a brush), and then darkened the thinner lines with a fountain pen.

It turned out okay, but the difference between the thicker and thinner lines worked better in graphite, as one was in 9B and the other in HB, so the contrast was more obvious. I also didn’t like how many smudges there were (not very careful while reusing a towel for blotting excess ink), especially at the top where there are few lines and you’re supposed to be getting a sense of emptiness to contrast with what’s below.

Sirens III 092618 (2)

The first sections I filled in were those which I knew I wanted to be the darkest. Starting with a diluted shade gave me some room for making mistakes, and indeed, I changed my mind a number of times on which sections would be darker than other sections. I needed to consider the overall balance of color, the path a given color takes the eye across the surface, and how each color path interacts with another. The more interactions, the more lively it is.

I was happy with the above version, but because I smudged it earlier, I decided to paint in the top section, which made me make two of the sections of the top-left figure the darkest shade; which is a good example of the overall process for coloring this in.

Sirens III 092618 (3)
Sirens III (2018), 18″ x 24,” Ink on paper 

I know it’s weird that I comment on myself, like I’m observing myself in the third person, but hindsight is often better than foresight. Speaking of which, I can appreciate, in hindsight, my foresight to not let the smudges influence me in prematurely coloring in the top section.

In order to mask the smudges well enough, I had to give it a fairly dark wash, and going as dark as I did would’ve made me begin with an undiluted shade so that I would have had no room to make the mistakes I’d made.


Water color paper (Strathmore 400)



Flowers II

Here’s another water color. I really liked the flowers I drew for the previous post, so I used them again. I wanted them to be the focus of the painting, and I think they could’ve been, but I began by painting them pink and it was easy to overwhelm the idea of the flowers with another idea, IE, vases, by simply using a darker color for the vases.

Flowers II 092018 a

I began with the above sketch, but after stepping away for a day, I decided to add to it, which made me rearrange some of the flowers already there.

Flowers II 092018 b

I didn’t have a clear idea of how to paint it after finishing the final sketch. I was still thinking of it in terms of a line drawing, and I liked it as a line drawing.

Flowers II 092018 c

But I stuck to my guns. In my head, I wanted to paint something with a pink and light green contrast, which is what I had in mind for Flowers (090818) in my previous post, which turned out to be pink and blue.

I began by painting in the flowers pink, which made them light and airy, which, again, I really liked. But starting with pink presented some challenges to keeping it light and airy, as well as keeping the flowers the main focus.

I had two ideas: flowers and vases; and what was nice about the line drawing is seeing the two main ideas overlap and compete with each other for attention. To maintain this tension, each idea had to be cohesive; each has its own language, in terms of color range and line flow. The flowers would be limited to pinks and reds, while the vases to shades of green.

Flowers II 092018 f

I was worried the vases would overwhelm the flowers, because it was difficult to find shades of green which weren’t darker than pink. Before painting in the final sections and after erasing the lines left in graphite, I realized I could erase some of the excess paint. I erased as much as I could, to even out how saturated it was.

Flowers II 092018
Flowers II (2018), 18″ x 24,” Water color on paper 

Seeing a digital copy of the painting, I’m glad I went ahead with applying dark green and green-blue. I think I drew more flowers than I needed to and they definitely overwhelm the vases, or the vases barely compete well enough. Before finishing the final sketch, I was tempted to even fill the whole surface with flowers, so I could let some of the negative space work as positive space, which was something I could’ve done, again, in my previous post.

It’s definitely not as light and airy as I wanted it to be, which is due in part to how clumsy I am with a brush. I think I’m getting better, though.

For different shades of pink and green, I applied one color on the surface, and after waiting for it to dry, I applied another color, so after two applications, sometimes after only one, it would look a bit cakey, especially the sections that look purple. I applied a bright blue or bright blue + dark blue before applying the pink on top. I had to make sure it looked like it was supposed to be pink, so you could see the flowers as objects that had overlap with other objects, as opposed to flowers that were cut off by other objects, because if you only saw a part of each flower, you might not know they were flowers, as they were abstractly drawn.


Water color paper (Strathmore 400)

Water colors (Roel, Acuarelas Italianas)