Variation 1, Watercolor, 18 x “24

Watercolor, with one big brush on a large piece of paper while thinking about a garden image that plays repeatedly in my head. A small amount of detail was put in toward the end of the painting overlaid with a second, smaller brush with special attention to white flowers.

The idea behind this piece is loosely defined mostly by brush movement over multiple watercolor layers with drying times in between.

In the process of doing this larger painting, I also completed a smaller garden piece where I paid more attention to some fine detail, even using a single hair from the larger brush for some of the painted lines in the second piece.

Variation 2, Watercolor 6″ x 9″

I am not completely sure where I am going with these variations, but am mostly working colors with brush, while varying access to water, and holding an approximate structural thought.

Below, is the first one that I completed in acrylic. It was done on a black background which does seem to highlight colors well.

Variation 3, acrylic, 6″ x “9

This project started because I wanted to learn what would happen if I were to try repainting this acrylic painting (Variation 3) that I had done earlier and liked, into a larger abstract watercolor (Variation 1).

What have I learned from the project? Paintings are moving targets. Each has its own character and wit. Even when I think that I am repeating myself, I am not. Variations of a painting are a wonderful way to experiment with technique, while holding a longer thought regarding the structure.

Abaco Home

This first story is about our home in the Abacos. All photos in this story will be taken within 100 feet of our home.

Front yard

No matter the direction, we are in the throes of nature.

Side yard

This place is special.

Multilayers in Art

“Storm Over”, multilayered watercolor, MJC

This is a layered, transparent watercolor prepared while applying the operable idea that instead of erasing or starting over when one wants change, one would add paint and brushstrokes to get the desired effect, leading to iterations of darker and lighter colors while allowing drying time in between each iteration.

In the process, the painting may shift moods several times.

For example,

I’m still wondering what I have learned from adding these layers.

Multilayering does encourage the idea that change is inevitable, that opportunities for reinventing the painting are plentiful and it certainly reduces one’s attention to feelings of regret, or focusing on flaws while feeling that nothing can be done about it.

I also see from this exercise how many opportunities crop up when you keep playing with a painting.

By adding layers, it may not always be a better painting, but it will at least be different. It may solve one problem while discovering another. It may also lead one to look into the painting by analyzing the many layers as they emerge, potentially leading to new techniques to be applied more consistently in the future. Or perhaps one might learn to be more exacting and touch the paper only once, much more deliberately.

Time will tell.

Art Moods

Personal photo, Mary Chamie (MJC)

One major goal we have in painting, is to set the mood.

Personal photo, Mary Chamie, MJC

Trying to set the mood of a landscape painting en plain air is like chasing a road runner. Every second provides a new opportunity.

There is no permanent reality to paint from. The moment we touch our canvas, the perspective we choose has already moved through shifting light, colors, reflections, winds going through trees and grasses, birds flying by.

Part of our painting inevitably includes our personal understanding of where we are, what we see and how we feel about it. We are part of the reality that we paint.

“Storm Coming” Watercolor, MJC

One photo, one location, there are many interpretations.

Even if we stay in one location, we continually confront new realities. There is no way to avoid it. We paint through all these movements and changes, while stabilizing our shifting realities through our our thoughts, interpretations and our moods.

Personal photo, Mary Chamie (MJC)

One location offers multiple perspectives, many different paintings, endless opportunities for creativity, exploration and innovation.

My choices in “Breakthrough” are bold yellows and reds crashing against the previous somber dark blue rain colors.

In my next painting of this storm, softer pinks and pastel yellows also deserve some space. I will have to go back and get them.

“Breakthrough”, Watercolor, MJC

I will return to my brushes with my soft pinks and blended colors for my next painting. I guess my mood has changed.

Until then, how does your nature’s landscape look today?

Midway Between, Watercolor, MJC

I’m still searching for those pinks.

Personal photo, MJC

And after that, my choice of moods.

Sometimes, when observing or painting in watercolors, I find that I have a choice of viewpoints. There is the artist’s view of the painting and then there is the outside reviewer’s perspective.

Is it what the artist sees or is it the perception of others that one hopes to illuminate?

Does the artist aim at controlling the observer’s reaction to a painting or should the artist aim to express their innermost thoughts vis a vis their art without regard to the observer?

How might one strike a balance? And why would one do so?

I have come up with my own approach to this balancing act.

  1. I develop my own idea of what I want to paint.
  1. I paint what’s on my mind.
  1. Once drafted, an outside observer may comment on it or ask a question about the meaning or appearance of the painting.
  1. At that point, I am interested in listening to what they are saying
  1. I try to better comprehend what their observation or question means, in light of what I intend for the painting.

I have learned that when an observer focuses on one aspect of a painting, I may look at the picture elsewhere in order to adjust what they see.

If they say, for example, that an area seems too dark, I may look at other areas of the painting to improve on how colors contrast or how depth of color might be adjusted to better highlight the painting.

These interactions and reactions lead to changes in the painting that are often very beneficial.

If I simply modify something based on the observer’s comments without any analysis, I have lost an opportunity to interact with them and learn more about what they see in the painting and to ask what are the mechanisms in my painting that cause them to see this.

If instead, when I listen to their observations and then analyze them while considering my own intentions for the painting prior to changing anything, I usually gain a clearer understanding of the relationship between my painting (myself) and an outside observer’s viewpoint.

This is beginning to sound like an existential analysis of a painting.

Perhaps that is what it is?

I paint, therefore I am?

You view the painting, therefore you are?

The painting is our interaction.

Much like music and writing, we learn through our exchanges.

It may be useful to conduct multiple interactions before concluding a painting

And now, back to my painting, with these thoughts still in my mind.

“Hiding in Plain Sight”, watercolor

Watercolor Challenge

Dreaming in Color, watercolor

Since the beginning of the year I shifted from oils to watercolors. I am currently staying on an island in the Abacos, Bahamas and while painting, I am trying to to use as few chemicals as possible for cleaning up in order to minimize damaging the fragile environment.

What I love most about this island it it’s natural beauty and am personally hoping to disturb it as little as possible with unnatural chemicals, turpentines, gamsols and other chemically derived substances that are hard to remove from water systems.

When I shifted to watercolors after working in oils and acrylics, it felt like going from using a lot of make up on one’s face to going without wearing any. It takes a while to figure it out. But once figured, interesting results do emerge.

In watercolors, I find that not doing something is often planned way ahead of time and may make a stronger artistic statement than doing something. Less may be more. Soft touches and the timidity of watercolors can sometimes offer big results.

I think this may be why transparency watercolorists try so hard to maximize their use of the paper they are painting on by using the pure color of paper white. It is because they are trying to maximize interest in the painting through the things they do not touch.

Oil painters, on the other hand, enhance their paintings substantially by adding plenty of paint for depth of color, texture and brushwork. This may leave little empty canvas behind, with nothing untouched, to tell the artist’s story. In this case, the paint is the story.

My expectations have had to change when I shift to paper and watercolors. It is a different temperament to work in.

Beach Blue, a watercolor
Storm Coming, watercolor

The other challenge is that on our island, the constantly shifting combinations of water, atmosphere and light makes one feel a unity, a oneness about them, that may not necessarily be felt so as vividly in other environments. Here, distinctions between sky, the ocean, and that of light may be blurred, leaving the mind completely boggled by the sudden shift felt in moods and color emphasis of the whole arrangement.

Colors can jump into gear on a second’s notice.

Storm Leaving, watercolor
Front Yard, watercolor

Common scenes are rearranged by nature’s dynamic, moods are shifted through rapid transitions in light and humidity, our observations bouncing about from rising and lowering tides and winds. This whole sense is ephemeral, further feeding into our awe of all the temporary beauty.

Here I am, with my watercolor paints, brushes and paper, reflecting on this.

Our annual holiday celebrations center around family and friends. Over the last several years, we have met up in smaller groups, but the tradition remains the same.

There was one year at the beginning of the Global Pandemic where only two of us, my husband and I, were available for the celebration. This was during the winter period where indoor socializing had largely stopped. However, we still celebrated.

We often begin the night before a celebration by taking a walk in the late evening. It is a slow stroll, enjoying the bright stars and the moon.  The weather is part of the celebration.  In the winter, we may walk in heavy snow.  In warmer weather, we might be walking under the stars, a cool breeze gently blowing.  We take evening walks during short days and long nights, sometimes in the rain.

In the morning of our declared celebration, we wake up to a great cup of coffee. We may just sit and watch the sunrise, often while looking out the window from our beds.  Children are handed hot cups of cocoa while they sit up in bed, propped on their pillows, enjoying the slow morning.  Inevitably, one of the kids spills a little chocolate on their sheets.  But rarely the whole cup.

One important aspect of celebrating is a special family breakfast.  In our case it is usually home-made waffles and strawberries, topped with maple syrup, with a side of coffee and some orange juice.  We sit at the table together and chat.  It is usually a slow, social morning.

Family members may begin preparing the big meal of the day, planned for later in the afternoon.  The rest of us dress appropriately for the weather of the day and head out the door for a four or five mile hike, or a run. If we are in the city, we might watch a local parade or go to a nearby park.

We return home for another cup of coffee or a glass of hot water with fresh lemon and enjoy a small lunch of bread and cheese, some fruit.  

Relax.  Breathe.



When the big dinner is almost ready, we open a bottle of wine and watch the sunset.

We sit at the table, sometimes we pause to say something appreciative about the day before we enjoy a big meal together.

After dinner, we take time out in the evening to tell old jokes and stories. It is not unusual if we have a larger group, to take time out for a jam session where we may play music on a variety of instruments, a sort of small family concert.

It is a “Festivus for the Restovus” of which there are many more to follow, and many ways to celebrate.

Photo taken by the author on the Springwater Corridor in Portland, Oregon.

Art as a Muse

Art is my muse. From art, I receive an endless supply of inspiration.
While I like to think that I an in charge of the creative process and am inspiring the painting, I am finding instead that the creative process of art is actually inspiring me.

Here is an example.

The idea of painting a bird series started when I was doing a small watercolor on one of those commercially produced blank watercolor cards that I planned to send to a friend (Perspective 1). Unexpectedly, this small watercolor painting on a greeting card became a source of inspiration for an exploratory series of paintings experimenting with alternative media.

At first I asked, how might this painting have looked if I had used oils instead of watercolors?

Perspective 1: Watercolor and ink, 4” x 6”

When I first noticed the birds, they were running as a glorious team in front of ocean waves softly rolling into the beach, the birds hurriedly capturing their meal of tiny fishes and bugs from the sand as the waves rushed back to the sea.

It was a few hours before winter sunset on the Abacos islands. The birds and I were standing on the beach in the sharp shadows and strongly contrasting light of early dusk. As I stepped closer to them, the birds fearlessly continued to shift back and forth with the waves, their legs moving quickly and in unison. It was fascinating to watch them perform with such measured uniformity of step. When I walked a bit too close for their comfort they started to skitter away.

And it is that particular moment, when they shifted their attention, that I wanted to paint.

Perspective 2: Oil painting, 22” x 28”

After completing the small watercolor sketch (Perspective 1), I decided to try again in oils on canvas, this time with greater attention to the late afternoon ocean colors, but still using a similar structure for the painting, resulting in Perspective 2. This oil painting reflected more stillness with most of the movement being from the waves washing against the shore while the birds stayed in position enjoying feeding time while small waves washed over them.

I decided to try the painting again and increase the commotion in the picture.

Wet- on- wet background in watercolor

To do this, I started by preparing a background of wet-on-wet watercolors on paper. Once this dried, I then watercolored over it and also used ink to complete the painting. The resultant painting called Perspective 3 is below. It did have the desired feel of commotion while also adding new lines and shades of interpretation.


Perspective 3: Watercolor on paper, 8” x 11”

Moving on, I tried again, this time asking, can I replicate this painting using a digital arts package such as Procreate?

I started by using a photo of the same wet-on-wet watercolor background that was used for painting Perspective 3 and super-imposed graphics over it. The birds were superimposed over the photo as were shades of color and selected lines. This was experimental on my part and was a first attempt at actually using digital arts for a painting . Here is what happened (Perspective 4).

Perspective 4: Digital Art using Procreate on an I-Pad

It struck me as odd that the only way I could produce Perspective 4 was to print it out, or I would have no physical evidence of my art piece. But that is the nature of digital design.

I also did one piece that was digital only, just for fun and it is Perspective 5. This time I focused attention to the birds’ positioning, letting the motion be implied by the waves .

Perspective 5: Digital Art

Finally, I returned to the physicality of oil paints and canvas and tried the same idea as an abstraction and this is what happened.

I continued to keep a similar structure in my mind while attempting to tell the story of the birds through color variations, brush movements and paint textures. My goal was to leave the feeling of moving water and birds without actually painting them as objects, resulting in Perspective 6.

This was also a challenge for me as I have struggled to reach all the way to abstraction and beyond impressionism. This time I think I made it.

Perspective 6: Oil painting on canvas,” 22’ x 28”

What did I learn from all these variations on the same painting?

What I learned is that the perspective that I take affects the outcome more that I ever might expect, even when the goal or intention of the painting is roughly the same.

As an analogy, if I were writing a story and I choose to write it in the first person, or the third person, it changes the orientation of the story. If I choose this actor or that actor to play the part in a play, or make a remark, the perspective of the story subtly shifts. If I choose these words over others, the entire mood of the short story may change.

The resultant stories that we tell or write have their own lives, independent of the writer’s or the story teller’s original intention. This is true, as well for art.

I believe that this is why it feels so daring to paint and why sometimes people may initially shy away from trying it. It is because each piece of art has a life of its own. It is because of what we may reveal in the process and may not necessarily expect. Perhaps we don’t even initially know this is going to be the painting we have in mind. But now that it is completed we see it as a real and independent construct that may, perhaps, be scrutinized by others, reinterpreted and possibly shared in new ways.

It is very daring to go through this creative endeavor, almost always resulting in further development and inspiration.

Art remains my muse.


I call this oil painting “Beginnings”.

It went through several iterations and is part of a project that I am working on.

Beginnings, in oils on canvas, 22” x 28”

There is a feeling of satisfaction and a type of introspection going on in my head when doing a creative study such as this as I freely put up the colors and textures where I want them, adding them with a joyous sort of freedom.

This is the first abstract I have tried that I sense is complete. It is a complete thought, an idea that I envisioned using a brush and some paints.

I don’t want to touch it.

No mini maneuvering would improve it for me. It is a new beginning, unexplained and free.

Pandemic Art Revisited

Water color collage
Cut up pieces of watercolor art glued on poster board

Some time ago when the Global Pandemic was first announced and before there were Covid vaccines, we were in our home for long periods of time. I started taking some zoom art classes. One very enjoyable zoom class was conducted by the artist Poca Kim and was offered through the Oregon Society of Artists.

Painted over with acrylic

Through our zoom meetings, Poca Kim introduced me to the idea of cutting up old watercolor and acrylic paintings to inspire new paintings. I made a number of collages using old paintings that I had no intention of using. I imagined myself peering into cities from what might be a prison, but also might be tree trunks.

At the time that I did these collages, I thought that I was viewing the city from the perspective of the safety of nature. Looking back on these photos, I now see that I was also indirectly messaging the idea of viewing the world from a sort of prison-like setting of a Global Pandemic.

Much like a diary, old paintings tell stories too.