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Dark Hollow Creek

Out for a drive in the rolling hills of Bucks County, PA., we passed this pristine scene. I asked my husband to please stop and park the car so I could take it in. I was struck by the still beauty, the perfection of the moment. Ice had partially covered the waters of the creek, the rocks tumbled by flood waters, and the sun was painting gold on the banks and high treetops off the hill. Out came my camera, and I snapped several photos.

I posted the photos on my facebook page, and the responses of viewers told me I was not alone in my own response. Winter can be such a grey colored time of year. Finding scant color painted by nature onto the harsh greys of winter is something the eye delights in. The scene had to be painted.

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I sketched the scene onto an Arches paper block. I like watercolor blocks, since you don’t have to stretch or tack down the paper to keep it from buckling. I like Arches paper for the quality and durability.

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I am frequently a spontaneous and loose water colorist. But for this one, I was compelled to paint carefully and realistically. Maybe the solemn beauty of the image asked for this approach. I began by wetting the high horizon and painting in golds and burnt siennas. Then I painted in some far trees.

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The sloping hillside was next, and I enlarged my reference photo to try to find suggested color in the diagonal shadows. It was there, so I exaggerated the blues, purples and mauves. Down to the road I painted, leaving some trees white paper to keep some true colors. More golds hit the top of the roadside before the shadows descended to the creek bed. I painted in the far shoreline, and dabbed hundreds of small rocks onto the beach. Fallen trees and roots were fun to paint. The hundreds of little stones not so much!

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Now the water- oh what a pleasure to paint this! The colors and reflections are so conducive to the nature of the media. Wet into wet painting, the beautiful lack of control in watercolor allows for the most beautiful of water depictions. When paint is almost dry, darkened tree reflections and shadows can be painted in, allowing for rich color with soft edges that does not blur into everything.

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I stopped on the water and moved back to the creek banks where roots, rocks, soil, and leaves required intricate painting and many more hundreds of dabbed paint strokes. Then I deepened the colors and shadows of most of the background with a wash of Paynes Grey, and painted more rock forms. Looking closely, I was surprised to find a little waterfall under the huge front rock-

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At this point I had filled in the trees. I studied the front tree and found reflected light on both sides- one from the light source on the left, and the right side from the icy stream. I formed the rocks and fallen branches, lost and found the twisted roots, added glazes of yellow to the golds, and was ready to paint the rest of the water- yay!

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The water changed colors in subtle blue ways; blue is my favorite color, and Antwerp and cobalt were needed as well as indigo. I discovered that the rocks on the right foreground were submerged, and floated reflections over them. I enhanced shadows, adding some purples to the rocks to tie in the background colors, the some gold gilded the rocks where the sun hit them. Last I removed the masking from some tiny twigs in the front left foreground, and it was done. I titled it Dark Hollow Creek for the winding country road it flowed next to. This was the most realistically I had ever painted, and the process taught me a great deal, even as it exhausted my capacities.

Happiest winter to all, cold or warm, whatever the weather of your clime deals you, I hope you can find the beauty in your world.