A Tribute to the Artist (well sort of)

1966 approx Dads painting B.jpg

This Sunday, my dad, Bill Ransom, would have been 100.  It seems like a good time for a tribute.  Well, sort of…I’ll let you decide if it’s a tribute or not. 

You’ll need a bit of background to understand.

Louise 1st place.jpg






My mom was an artist.  She painted, and her main subjects were landscapes. 

She was really good.







Dad was a photographer.  It started as a hobby when he was a teenager, then continued as an adult.  My dad, had a career as a designer in the aerospace industry, but photography was always a part of his life and a side business.

He was a great photographer.


My parents were each other’s biggest fans. 

But one day, in 1966, (I was 13), Dad came home from work early, with a big canvas, paint brushes and an artist’s beret.  To the best of my memory, it went something like this:

Mom (surprised): “What is THIS?”

Dad (grinning): “You’re not the only one in this family who can paint.”

Mom (with skeptical tone): “Are you sure about that?”

Dad (confidently): “I have my scene already picked out, and I’m ready to start.” 

Mom (laughing, rolling eyes): “Ok, you do your best.” 

Mom, Paul, and Laurie: (laughing and more laughing)

So for several weeks, when Dad came home from work each day, he went to work on his painting.  (It was a view of the Grand Teton Mt. range with the Snake River in the foreground.)  This did not go on without mocking and playful teasing from my mom, (and my brother and I too).  Dad dished it right back with confident talk, and a flourish of the brush! 

1966 approx Dads painting A.jpg

As the painting progressed, we all realized it was actually turning out good, but following mom’s lead, we never let on to Dad.  When dad finished his painting, he framed it and hung it over their bed.  It moved with them to three other homes, and was placed above their headboard for 48 years.  With every move, Mom made comments about there "not being room" for it at the new house, but it always ended up in its "place of honor" in the master bedroom. 

And for 48 years, it was the source of MANY private jokes, and bantering.  Dad smiled and teased back every time and we NEVER did tell him that we in truth liked the painting and admired his talent.  It was his one and only painting and quite amazing actually.  I had always hoped to tell him some day that I really did like it (though I’m sure he knew).  I never told him, but maybe that’s more fitting anyway. 

I miss my parents.  I miss their love of the beauty of God’s creation, and desire to capture it on canvas and film.  I miss the “inside” family jokes, the hilarious things that happened on some of our vacations.  I miss their adventurous spirits.  I miss their devotion to each other.  But I DON’T miss dad’s painting, because it is hanging above the headboard in my guest bedroom.  When I see it a smile forms in my heart. 

Good job, Dad!

Julie's painting is finished!

(Continued from yesterday's blog.)

This afternoon, I made the changes on my list.  I added a few more flowers both in the foreground and the background, to improve the composition.


Here's a close up.

Now it is time to add the dark reds and greens.  By adding the shading, the flowers take shape and have depth.  It is shadows and highlights that give form.  I added the same reds and greens to the background flowers, but by "dabbing" them in, not "brushing" them in.  I want the background to look "fuzzy."  Finally I added all the details like the little sprigs, buds, and branches.  Feeling satisfied with these cherry blossoms, I smiled, and got ready for the final stage. 

Remember the font I chose in the planning stage?  In my Word program I formatted the letter for size.   


Position the Monogram, making sure the size is right for the space.

Sometimes it takes a few tries to get it right. 


Remember this step?  Use a pencil to darken the lines on the back side of the paper so it can be transferred to the painting.  I tape it to the window, to see the lines through the paper. 

I taped the "D" Monogram drawing on the painting and transferred the "D" to the painting by tracing the lines with my pencil.  Next, I carefully painted in the black. 


So, Julie D., here is your painting.  I hope you like your prize.  I really enjoyed painting it for you, and I hope it finds a nice place in your Craftsman style home.  To the rest of you who have been looking over my shoulder these last few days, I've loved sharing with you.  I wish I could paint one for each of you.  It was a fun contest, and a treat to paint these red blossoms.  Springtime blessings to everyone!

"Red Cherry Blossoms" Monogram with digital watermark added

"Red Cherry Blossoms" Monogram with digital watermark added

Wet Brushes


Continuing with Julie's painting.  With the planning and drawing done, today we paint!  I like to paint with natural light.  Sometimes I hang a white sheet in front of the window to prevent shadows. 





Paper Towels...check

First I paint in the background very lightly, to make sure I like the layout.  I mix up a good red that I like, and then thin it with water for the light parts.  The "light red" is not really going to look "pink" when I'm done because with watercolors you must start out with the lightest parts of the painting first, and darker and darker colors as you go along, leaving exposed the light parts where you want them.  You'll see better as we go along.  Don't worry Julie, these blossoms ARE going to be red NOT pink. 

You can click on the photos to enlarge them and there's a small X in the upper right to click when you want to come back to this page.

Since I don't have a photographic memory, I rely on my reference photos.  When I took the photo, I held my purse behind the flowers so they would stand out clearly.   Never mind the colors in the photo.  I just needed it for the shapes.

Next come the flowers in the foreground.  They will be the main event in this painting.  Because they are near, they will be distinct.  The ones in the distance will be lighter, and less sharp. 

The flowers are just painted simply at this point with no shading yet. 

Darker red paint is added to the flower petals, to show their shape.  I am careful to leave the lighter parts alone and put the darker red only where the shading would be. In the distant flowers, I add some blotchy darker red because I will want them to look like a bunch of reddish blossoms, not cotton candy. 

Periodically, I step back from the painting, and make sure I like the composition, and colors.


At this point, it was nearing time to make dinner, and Gary needed to get up from his nap.  (Today he was in the recliner, in the sunroom with me which I like.)   When I'm done for the day, I prop up the painting and every time I pass by, I see things I want to do tomorrow.  I keep a little paper near it, and jot things down to change or add.  A little more red here, an additional branch there, add some flowers over here, etc. 

I'm often asked how long it takes to create a painting.  This is a hard question to answer because of all the in between "thinking/looking" I do. 

I've rinsed out my brushes, and straightened up my desk, but I can't wait to get working again tomorrow.  Have a good night all.

"I am so excited, I'm shaking! I never win anything!!"

On March 23rd, Julie's name was drawn. "YAY!"

On March 23rd, Julie's name was drawn. "YAY!"

"Thank you SO very very much!!", continued Julie D., the winner of our contest!  Julie's original watercolor painting is underway and just as I promised, I'll be giving a step-by-step look at how I create a painting.  (To celebrate my brand new website, I recently hosted a drawing.  You can read about it HERE if you're curious.) 

So let's get started...


Julie let me know that she would like a Personalized Monogram watercolor with the letter "D" for her family name.  She loves cherry blossoms, and since she likes browns, whites, creams and red accents, she would like them to be red.  Her home is "Arts and Crafts" style.  We emailed back and forth a few times so that I could get a feel for her tastes. 


Every artist works differently, but I really get into the preparation.  My assignment was to find great cherry blossom pictures to use for reference, AND choose a great font for the "D." 

Grandmas and Granddaughters under a floral canopy

Grandmas and Granddaughters under a floral canopy

  • FIRST, the pictures...Good timing, because last week, we had a "Girls' Day" at beautiful Descanso Gardens.  (If you live nearby, you really MUST GO.  Spring has Sprung!)  While we were there I grabbed some close ups of the cherry trees to use for Julie's painting. 



  • NEXT, I assemble my reference pictures, and Julie's ideas which will be used for layout, color, and theme.  I did a bit of research and found that there are no true red blossoms on cherry trees, BUT, that's were artistic license comes in.  From the pictures I saw, many trees appear red depending on the lighting, so no problem.  "Red cherry blossoms" it is! This pool of ideas will also answer the following very important question:  What exactly DOES a cherry blossom look like up close? 

Bungalow Heaven neighborhood

Bungalow Heaven neighborhood

  • LAST BUT NOT LEAST, find the perfect font for the monogram.  I want the monogram to reflect the "Arts and Crafts" style to be a good fit with her home.  A bit of background here, because I want to explain the font choice, AND just for fun, because we LOVE this architectural style. 

William Morris started the Arts and Crafts movement in England.  His philosophy opposed the mass production of the Industrial Revolution and emphasized the individual craftsman and artisan who work with their hands using local natural materials.  This followed the Victorian style with it's decorative embellishments and instead, emphasized simple, clean lines.   In America, the "Craftsman" style is very evident in the Bungalow.  In fact, nearby in Pasadena, you can explore the Bungalow Heaven neighborhood, to see the beautifully restored homes.  Gary and I have driven around here as well as toured the Gamble House also in Pasadena.

Our California Bungalow home

Our California Bungalow home

One of the reasons we like the Craftsman style so much is that we had our own bungalow for 36 years.  Here's what it looked like when we bought it. 

Example of Arts and Crafts lettering

Example of Arts and Crafts lettering

What does architecture have to do with fonts? We'll use the green sign at the right, to look at a typical Arts and Crafts font.  Notice how simple the letters are?  They almost look like the bungalow.  No swirls, serifs, extras, etc.  Just cool looking angular letters.  I love this font, but not sure this particular "D" will look good as a stand alone letter. 


Sample fonts

Sample fonts

I try out various fonts from the Arts and Crafts period (1860-1910 England, and about 1930 in America) to choose a "D" that will work. 

You can see the contrast, from the Victorian era before, and the Art Nouveau and Deco, which came after.   These are just a few that I looked at.  Many more styles were around between 1860 and 1930, but the one highlighted in blue works best for our painting. The "D" has a simple, slightly triangular shape, but a bit of style too.


It starts with a very simple line drawing.  Just the shapes to establish the composition.


This is my very 'old school' method of transferring the layout to watercolor paper.  Tape drawing to window, with drawing facing away.  Shade with side of pencil the lines that show through the paper.  (Hint: This will not work at night.)

Tape the drawing to the watercolor paper (or block) with the drawing side up.  Trace the lines of the original drawing onto the watercolor paper.  This keeps me from having to do all my sketchy work on the watercolor paper.  I don't want to be erasing on it, and redoing much, because I don't want to damage the surface before painting.  


Using some of my photos, I lightly draw in some of the details directly onto the watercolor paper.  These photos are being used for shape and form, rather than color.  These flowers are pink, but Julie's will be red.

I'll draw in the D later after the cherry blossoms are done.

 Now we're ready to start.  Looking forward to getting my paintbrush wet!  That's next so stay tuned.

If at any point along the way you'd like to ask a question about the process, please leave a comment.  I'd love to hear from you.

Thanks for the Complement, with an "E."

Blue and Orange, from my most recent painting, the final one of a series, to be published soon.

Blue and Orange, from my most recent painting, the final one of a series, to be published soon.

Do you ever think of something from 'way back?'  It was from years ago, but it made a big impression.  Gary's mom used to say, in her English accent, "That takes me right back!"  Well, my last painting did just that.  It was the colors.  Basically, red-orange tones with blue.  It was either Mr. Reuss, or Mr. Norley, in High School, or more likely, my mom, who taught me about complementary colors. 

To clarify:

Complimentary with an "I" means "expressing a compliment, praising or approving," OR "something that is given free of charge."  If you keep reading, you'll get a complimentary lesson in complementary colors! 

Complementary with an "E" means "completing", OR "combining two or more things to enhance, or emphasize each other's qualities."  Exactly!  Complementary colors complete each other, or help to complete a painting, or any beautiful scene, whether artwork, or nature.  When used together carefully, they really enhance each other.  For instance, notice how great the orangey berries look against the blue sky in the painting at the left?

My mom's color chart which earned her an "A."

My mom's color chart which earned her an "A."

There are an infinite number of color combinations in this beautiful world that are pleasing to the eye, but there are a few that stand out and are pretty easy to remember.  Complementary colors are those that are directly across from each other on the color wheel.  Check out my mom's color wheel from way, way, way back in the day.  (I doubt she even remembers that I kept this.)  Blue & Orange, Green & Red, Violet & Yellow are the 3 basic sets.  If you mix them together in the right proportions, they will result in a "grayish" tone or will neutralize each other.  Using different amounts of the complementary color will adjust the brightness of the original in varying amounts.  This is so helpful when you want to get just the right color to make something look right, or "complete."

Let's get our paintbrushes wet, and try it out!  Here's your Complimentary Lesson:

Let's say you are painting an orange with watercolors.  I'm talking about the kind of orange you eat. 


You'll want to use a pure orange paint.  But, if you paint a round orange circle, on your paper, it will look like a flat orange circle, and not a fruit. 


You'll need to make it look 3-D, and have the shape of a ball so you can do this with "shading."   Shadows appear to be black, but in reality, even shadows have some color. So adding a little bit of blue to the orange, will give you a more muted orange which can be used for the shading.


I also used some of the mixed dull orange for the leaf's shadow and the dimple for the stem.  Now the "orange" paint is "muted" and appears as shadows. 


I came back in with a bit of the pure orange, but left some of the original, thinner orange to look like light reflecting off the center, near the top, which also helps to makes it look round. 

Add a leaf and a bit more shading...and it's good to go.  It's more than a flat orange circle, thanks to BLUE!  Who'd-a-thunk?

Next time you're awestruck by a beautiful sunset, just think how beautifully complementary colors work together to look amazing and then thank God for blues and oranges!

Cambria Nov. 2011

Cambria Nov. 2011