“Tulips for Thomas” – my step-by-step approach

Over the summer I completed a painting that I titled Tulips for Thomas. The painting was done from a photograph I took in a workshop a year ago last April with an internationally known artist and respected watercolor instructor, Thomas Schaller. Someone had brought Thomas flowers and put them into water glasses. I loved the workshop and so enjoyed getting to know Thomas – he is an exceptional painter and a wonderful person. Visit thomasschaller.com to check out his stunning, award-winning work. 

I sent an image of the painting to Thomas a short while after completing it, telling him that I thought he might like to see a piece I named after him and for which he was my inspiration. With memories of the workshop in my head, I had loved every minute I spent on the painting. It took quite a while to complete because of its size… it is a full-sheet watercolor, 30″ tall by 22″ wide.

To my utter surprise, Thomas wrote back that he wanted to buy the painting! I was so honored, I was practically speechless, and incredibly grateful. The best part of all is that his payment includes one of his original works that I will receive in return! I am thrilled.

Below is an explanation of my approach to painting Tulips for Thomas

Several of the steps I went through to complete this painting.

Several of the steps I went through to complete this painting.

After looking at the photograph and determining how I wanted to go about executing the painting, I drew my composition on Arches 300# cold press paper. I then outlined all of the areas that I wanted to make really dark with masking fluid – this allowed for painting those areas faster to keep visible brush strokes to a minimum. I also masked out the highlights on the glasses. The original photo had a busy background that I didn’t like and the glasses were simply sitting on the floor. I decided to create a split background instead with a rich black at the top and a warm, reflective surface on the bottom.

After painting in the dark areas, I removed the masking fluid around those areas and started painting the individual flowers, leaves and stems. On some of these I painted wet pigment on dry paper and some I painted wet into wet – an approach where you moisten a particular area with clean water and then drop in various colors, allowing pigments to mix and flow together on the paper. You achieve that wonderful blending effect I think is so extraordinary to the watercolor medium.

If you compare the lower left image to the finished painting on the lower right, you will see that there is a small white flower between the glasses in the center of the painting. As I continued painting, that flower became more and more noticeable until eventually it was all I saw. I had to remove it… it served no purpose and only detracted from the overall impression of the piece. Decisions like this can often make a big difference in the success of a particular work.

Finally, I removed the masking fluid on the glasses and painted the exposed highlight areas to integrate them with everything else.

So there you have it… Tulips for Thomas. I couldn’t be happier that this painting will find its home in Los Angeles with Thomas, and I will have a Thomas Schaller original on my wall in the Pacific Northwest. Thank you, Thomas!



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