Blank Watercolor paper waiting for an image to be transferred
Watercolor Paper Waiting to start the Big Boy Painting Journey  September 2, 2019

My Big Boy Painting Journey starts with a blank piece of paper, the most fearful stage of the journey.  The idea is in my head, I even have a tiny test painting I laid out to see how it might look, but actually starting a painting is the hardest part.  All my fears of inadequacy come to the surface.  Thoughts like, “Am I good enough; is it too hard; will anyone like it; can I satisfy the viewer, etc”.  The other side is I can’t wait to see how it will look when I am done, but I know it will be a long time until it is complete.  I don’t work fast as a rule because I get a bit bogged down in details.  In this case, the Big Boy Steam Locomotive is an historical engine and there are many people that would look closely and critique my work if I get the detail wrong.  So much angst placed on one piece of paper.

Sketch of the Big Boy Steam Locomotive on Watercolor paper
Big Boy Locomotive Sketch  September 4, 2019

It is time to start.  Most of the time I would draw my image on the paper either free hand, or by using a grid to transfer the image.  In this case, because the details are so well known, I did not want to take a chance, so I did a direct transfer from the image onto the paper.  I caught most of the details that can be seen on the picture.  I have additional historic references that I may visit to highlight some thing that can’t be seen in the shadows of the photo, not sure yet.  It would be easier to let them blend in, but I suspect they would be missed.  

05 Sept 2019 progress on Big Boy painting
Big Boy 05 Sep 2019 progress report

I started to get the background and sky in the first washes.  The trees were giving me a little trouble.  I need to find the right combo of black to paint the train.  It looks like some purple will be involved.

 

Work in progress on Big Boy Train with added detail in engine
Big Boy 06 Sep 2019
Dark values added to the front of the engine
Big Boy 09 Sep 2019

I worked on finding the right combination of colors to make a black or gray that had the right degree of dark, but a little warmth also.  The combination if ultramarine deep (blue) and raw umber (a yellow brown).  I tried Prussian blue, but the gray level turned to green which wasn’t at all what I wanted to accomplish.

I removed the masking fluid that kept some of the areas white.  I am not a masking fluid fan because it leaves harsh edges, but taking it off early I have a chance to soften the edge and leave a highlighted space.

I struggled to get enough detail without too much, but it is very difficult to see the details on a black photo.  I brightened the photo a little to see the details, mostly the shading just gives an allusion of detail, steam trains have a huge amount of pipes and small mechanical stuff on them, just no way to capture all that.  I think the most important part of the train is the X4014, 

Continuing to add more dark values to the Big Boy engine
Big Boy Steam Locomotive 13 Sep 2019

I took this picture outside to show it in a more natural lighting.  The painting always looks different in natural rather than the filtered light inside.  I like the way this is evolving, but still have difficulty deciding on how much detail should bee brought out considering the train is in motion and there would be some blurring of the mechanics of the wheels. 

Big Boy locomotive work in progress with most of the final wash
Big Boy Steam Locomotive 18 Sep 2019

I had some life issues going on, so there was very little progress with the Big Boy Steam Locomotive until the 18 Sep 2019 when I put on the last wash.  Now I need to add some detail and it should be done. 

It may not look too much different, but once I sign my name and take off the green tape, the painting is finished.  Now off to the printer for scanning so it can be reproduced.  

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Our bedroom window looks out onto a grove of Black Walnut trees.  In the summer when the days are cool we have the windows opened and our wake up call is set off by the morning sounds.  Early in the spring there is a cacophony of bird whistles as they anxiously start to set up housekeeping for the year.  This starts at about 5:00 am, although we can ignore it for at least another hour until the crows start calling for the few scraps we leave on the table.  The most wonderfully annoying sounds come from our close neighbors, the wrens.  We have four houses set close to the house, because for some reason wrens like to be nearby.  They start their scolding early and keep us company for most of the day.
Wren Picture for blog
Wren Nesting in Gourd

The most entertaining wrens occupy a gourd on the front of our home next to a screened “cassita” we have on our front patio.  They fly in and out without paying any attention to our noisy gatherings from April to then end of July.  Generally they have two sets of chicks and once they have completed their housekeeping they leave until the next season.

I wasn’t keeping track of their absence, probably because of the heat and our windows were closed, but early in the August it occurred to me that we no longer had our early morning wake up call.  The woods were quiet.  The pestering had stopped and now only the crickets or cicadas could be heard.  Now instead of wrens chirping, we hear the squirrels husking the walnuts, dropping them on our shed roof and then the gnawing sounds as they scrape away the hard outer shell of the nut trying to find the inside meat.
The summer sounds are softening, signally change.  The lack of sound is deafening as your ear reaches out trying to recapture the excitement and energy that once existed.  There will be a slower pace, change is in the air, the flowers have found their peak and will now diminish as the days shorten.  Preparations will start for a new beautiful season with fall colors and the quiet of winter when sounds are muffled by snow.
Summer Flowers

Enjoy the remnants of summer as they wane.  Look forward to change and prepare your hearts for new opportunities. Find something extraordinary and share it with a friend.

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Horizontal dandelion close up
Macro of dandelion bloom

I am working on a series of paintings I want to call “Undesirable Beauties”.  So what are they?  They are plants most people would refer to as weeds, but when you look close at them they are really quite beautiful.  I have a couple of these already completed; Creeping Charley and Queen Anne’s Lace.  The most obvious of all these beauties would be the dandelion.  I waited until they bloomed this spring to get my own macro photos and decided I like this horizontal image the best.

I consulted with my mentor on approaching this painting and he recommended that I work in more of a “designy” mode.  I am not sure that is a word, but my interpretation was to loosen up a bit, not get involved in the details and get a bit more abstract.  Basically he is tell me to get out of the box, start scratching at the boundaries of my artistic box and break free from control.

Tiny dandelion abstract study
Tiny study painting for a dandelion abstract

I really wasn’t really sure how to start this project, so I approached it by doing a tiny painting (ACEO 2.5 x 3.5 inch).  I sent it off to my mentor and published it online and low and behold people liked it.  Encouraged I moved on to the big paper (11 x 14 inch) and started to lay some paint on the paper.  You see below how I embraced the color red, so it has a dramatic start.

Dandelion Abstract WIP 1
Dandelion Abstract Start Up

I was beginning to like this bold color and added some more to definition to the flower and then I stopped.  I could tell that I was starting to add detail, trying to control the outcome and not letting the water and pigment flow to where it wanted to go.

The best watercolors let the magic of the water and pigment work for you.  Over control can make for a muddy mess.  As I reflect on what is going on with the “out of the box” thinking I think maybe I am getting a little nudge from the Holy Spirit that He is in charge.  I have been given a gift, but He controls the outcome.  I need to hand this over with open hands and trust that all will work together to His glory.  Well, I am sure that is all good in theory, but my nature will surely get in the way again as it always does.  I just hope that somewhere in the process a compromise will be reached.

Stay tuned as I provide more work in process photos.  

Dandelion 06 June
Dandelion 06 June

I was hoping that I would be able to scratch myself out of the box of of artistic styles, but alas, I could not allow the paint to be totally free.  I need to see the detail in the petals to satisfy my sense of organization.  I had to know where the petals started from and where they finish and to see some subtlety.   I feel I compromised and left some of the outlying petals undefined.  In the end, I think I like it, but it is different for me and I would love to see comments on what you think

Below is the final picture.  I am not sure if I will make it available on this website.  I might just take it to shows and see if I can get a response from a general audience.  If you are interested, please send me an email.  I have title this painting “Dandelion Inferno” because of the red hot color below.  Please provide comments to let me know if I should do more of this type of painting.  Thank you

dandelion inferno
Dandelion Inferno

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Seahorse
Seahorse

Dave and I made a quick trip to visit our daughter and granddaughter for lunch.  We have all be very busy and this was a way of getting together for a short visit to find out what has been happening in our lives.  We had a nice lunch, got caught up on our business and then my granddaughter told a little story about her trip to the big box store.  Her story reminded me just how much courage it takes for young people to grow up.  

My granddaughter had some money she had set aside so she could buy something special just for herself and she had found a pair of sunglasses she liked at the store.  They were nice enough, but when her mother looked at them, she informed my granddaughter that the value of the sunglasses did not compare with the price.  My daughter was being helpful and she is quite frugal and generally can make a dollar go farther than anyone I know, so her advice is sound.  My granddaughter is about 13 and doesn’t have the buying skill of an adult, and she was thankful for the advice but this reality would mean the sunglasses had to be returned.

I don’t know about you, but I hate to return stuff.  I know it isn’t that hard and most of the time the process goes without a problem, but one has to either admit you made a mistake or something was wrong, and there is paperwork to fill out and just a lot of issues so sometimes I just keep stuff to prevent the bother.  Well here is this young woman, moving into unknown territory.  She has no idea what to say, how to say it, or what the customer service person will do when she admits her error in judgment.  She will have to muster up all her courage to move past her fears and approach the counter.  Now,  her mother was with her helping her form the words, but even so, I can just imagine the amount of adrenaline coursing through her body and that flight/fight emotion was telling her to run.  

My granddaughter overcame her fear and returned the item, and all went well.  She learned a new lesson and her success will help her try something new again in the future because of past success.  I was glad she shared this story with me.  I think she was a bit embarrassed to talk about it, but that too required courage.

The seahorse in the picture above doesn’t really have anything to do with this story other than I have always thought how brave the father seahorse must be to carry all his offspring inside of his belly until they are safe to leave his side.  Fear is a big deal and this story is a good reminder that young people meet new challenges each day and some embrace these challenges eagerly and others must overcome deeper levels of fear just to make it through the day.  I am thankful that my granddaughter has accepted the Lord, Jesus Christ as her Savior because she can always reach out her hand to Him to guide her through moments of fear when there may be no one else to help her.

Isaiah 41:13 “For I the LORD thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not:  I will help thee.”

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Wingra Lake WI Dam Jumping Musky
Wingra Dam Jumping Musky

Tuesday morning, April 9th, I saw an Instagram video of Wingra dam jumping muskies starting to jump the Wingra Lake dam in Madison, WI.   I am 60+ years old and have lived in the Madison area all my life and never knew about this interesting phenomenon until last year when I saw a You Tube video,  Wingra Jumping MuskiesI was pretty excited when I learned that the Muskies where starting their annual jumping and wanted to go see them.

I told my husband that he should go check it out with his son when they went into Madison to work that morning, but Dave thought he could wait.  I said, not waiting, today was the day, it was was 60 degrees F and the next day it was suppose to be below freezing and snowing.  I explained to him that my father was the type of guy that new when there was something special going on, that work could wait.  I told him that when I was a kid, about every other year the DNR would “shock” the Mt. Vernon Creek to check on the health of the trout and throw out the suckers.  When dad heard they were doing that, we would go down to the creek and follow the shocking crew, walking for a couple of miles and checking out the fish population.  It was just something we had to do and it was more important than work.  I suppose some people would disagree with that kind of attitude, but that was what I loved about my dad.

So after that little lecture, Dave decided he would check out the site.  They watched for a little while and saw the big fish pooling under the dam and about six fish jumped.  That was cool for them, but needed to see it too.  After they returned from work, Dave and I went back in so I could see this for myself.  After all this is the only muskie in the world that do this.  This is truly extraordinary.  I was told they are not really spawning and they are hybrids and a bit crazier than regular muskies, but I am no fish biologist.  

The fish were not as active but I got to see about three jump and a sneaky guy.  There was a big one that was swimming right at the surface and he was ready.  He went under the first section of the waterfall and just poked his head up, then a little higher and then about a foot up into the water before he came back down.  I thought that was so funny, it just made me laugh.  

I was inspired by this little outing and decided I need to capture the fun with a painting.  I had not intended it to be a great painting, I just needed to play with the fish.  It is a 5 x 7 inch painting I used to practice flowing water and shiny fish backs.  It isn’t my normal overly worked detailed painting, but I think it captures the moment better that way.

If you get into Madison, WI before April 14th, you should check out the Wingra dam.  It will definitely bring a smile to your face.  If you go, send a comment back or even a picture so we can spread the word.  

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Watercolor close up of Queen Anne's Lace Progess 05 Sep 2018

This month I demonstrated ACEO (Art Card Editions and Originals) painting at the local historical museum (Driftless Historium).   The event was part of an exhibition by the MHAAA.  I had laid out 2.5 x 3.5 inch cards taped to foam board, some with drawings printed on them and some blank.  I also provided watercolor pens, liquid watercolor, and small pan watercolor so they had their choice of medium to try.  

I explained the history of ACEOs and then I asked them if they would like to try their hand at painting, but before they started I explained that there is no white in watercolor.  Technically there are a couple of white opaque paints that are available, but watercolor purists or transparent watercolor painters do not allow the white paint when judging watercolors.  The only true way to have white show up in your paintings is leave the white of paper exposed.  This means you can’t just paint away and come back later and add the white, you have to plan ahead to protect the white spaces.  I call this “Planning for Purity”

When Planning for Purity, there are a few ways to leave white exposed.  One is to put a masking fluid on the white so you can just wash over the surface.  This is a very safe method, but when you remove the gummy material it leaves a hard edge that must be blended back into your other pigments.  

Another way is to wax the surface, but with that method you can’t remove the wax so you better get it right the first time.  The trickiest method is to paint around the white, being very careful not to get any pigment on the white space.  If you do, you can try to lift the pigment off, but it will never be the true white anymore.

Close up of Peony and thistle
Pricks and Petals

I have had a lot of trouble painting white things.  This picture is a peony and I didn’t leave that much white, it is more of an ivory because of trying to get shadows in the folds of the petals, I used a lot more yellow than intended.  I like the results, but just not really white.

I keep trying to improve my use of white, for example, Silas, the Siberian Crane was a big challenge, since he is all white, except for a few black tail feathers. Siberiancranewatercolor

Planning for Purity in life can be even harder.  We start out pretty good but even as small children it is tough to make good choices when we are bombarded with worldly knowledge.  Our canvas gets darker and darker over time and eventually we need intervention to remove the dark pigment.  We can seek help from others, but there is only one source capable of wiping the slate clean and that is our Savior, Christ Jesus.  I am so thankful for His gift, now my heavenly father can look at me and my canvas is as white as snow.

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Framed painting of Siberian Crane
Silas the Siberian Crane in a Frame

In November I was extended the opportunity to exhibit some of my artwork in a Reedsburg Bed and Breakfast.  I didn’t have enough available pieces to meet their entire needs, so I started coming up with ideas of what would be interesting for their guests.  One of the attractions in this area is the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo, WI, so I thought it would be interesting to paint a crane.  

I checked out their website and they had some wonderful photos, but there was one that really appealed to me and that was the Siberian Crane in the drop wing threat pose.  I thought how appropriate to paint a threatened species in threat mode.  I asked permission to use that image as a reference photo and they kindly agreed.

I was a little intimidated at first because I typically paint small pictures (less than 10 inches on the longest side) and this was going to be 18 x 24 inches, which is huge from my perspective.  Facing the big, blank piece of watercolor paper started all kinds of negative thinking on my part, it took me several days to figure out how I was going to sketch out the drawing and make it look like the actual bird. 

But first things first, you have to secure the paper to a backer board because the water from the brushes causes the paper to expand and if it isn’t taped down, it will buckle and roll as it dries.  I use a green tape as you can see in the photo.  The green painters tape pulls off easily in the end, but is not that pretty to look at while I am painting.

siberiancranewatercolorinprogressI think the most significant feature on the the crane is the beak and the eye.  I set out to master that first because that was crucial.  The beak was actually pretty easy for me because there is color and I can do color pretty well, but then I had to start on the white feathers.  Painting white things in watercolor has never been easy for me.  I blocked off the outline with masking fluid, but it leaves such a hard edge that I don’t use it any more than needed.  The think with watercolor isn’t really a white paint you can use to touch up mistakes.  You get white by leaving the watercolor free from paint, so you paint around the white spaces leaving the white exposed.  I had a hard time trying to figure out how dark to make the shadows and I had to lift off color several times when I thought it was too dark.

Siberiancraneworkinprogress

Another element that I had to conquer was the ruffled feathers on the neck.  The crane in threat mode was all puffed up, I suppose so it looked tougher and bigger to other cranes.  I am not sure how tough the crane looked, but after a while, if you look at that eye you begin to know he means business.  

By this time I had spent many hours working on this painting.  I was beginning to get pretty intimate with the crane and I decided it would be easier to relate to him by giving him a name.  I gave him the name Silas.

Some of you will know Silas as Paul’s companion in the Bible.  I thought that name would be good because my Silas will also act as a missionary to bring awareness to the fact that Siberian Cranes are a critically endangered species.  I hope that I can help Silas by giving 10% of the sales to the International Crane Foundation.  I think he deserves all the help I can give him.

Siberiancranewatercolor
Silas with the tape removed

In the end, when the final brush stroke is applied, I sign the painting and it is time to remove the ugly green tape.  Silas had been a stressful journey.  I had to overcome more mental obstacles then technical but in the end, I think I captured Silas pretty well.  It is hard to explain how much joy there is in removing the green tape, seeing that pure white edge.  Slowly the tape is removed to prevent tearing and the final painting is revealed.  It is the end of a project, time for celebration.  This was a huge accomplishment for me and hope it will be a joy to it’s new owner.  If you would like to be the new owner, he is located in my shop.

Silas

Okay, I admit it, I sell Cards that would be wonderful if used as Thank You Notes.  That was my hope when I created them, but I am not sure if Thank You notes are all that common anymore.  Why would you take the time to purchase a card, write a note, buy a stamp and send it in the mail, when you can just write a text or email for free.

I have three reasons that have come out of recent experiences:

  •  Teaching young people how to mail a letter.  (This could be a little embarrassing for my 12 year old granddaughter, but I think it is worth the risk).  My granddaughter received birthday money from her Great Grandmother.   I encouraged her to write a quick note acknowledging the gift.   I suggested she include her intent for the money, just so Grandma knows that it will be used for something special.  I helped my granddaughter by putting the address and return address on the note and placed the stamp on it as well.  I watched her write the note and place it in the envelope and sent it home with her so she could mail it from her own address.  Well, it was a few weeks later and Grandma had not received the note.  What was the problem?  It turns out that my Granddaughter had moved to a new house and had never mailed a letter, so she had no idea how to put the letter in the mailbox.  Please verify that children know how to mail a letter.

 

  • Let people know you have received their gift.  I recently sent a birthday card with money to another one of my grandchildren and did not hear back from her in any form.  Well, it arrived 10 days late and her mom was nice enough to let me know the problem.  I had mailed it to the wrong address.  I mindlessly copied the address from my cell phone contacts without realizing it was going to the wrong town.  Now this could happen if you send an amazon gift or a card or any other gift through a delivery system, it is good to have a record of receipt from the recipient.

 

  • Its just nice to get something in the mail.  It used to be that getting mail was kind of special.  Hundreds of years ago, people used to send letters to tell about current events and share news or send invitations.  Now we have the internet and instantly we know more about our friends and family than we care to know, so information is no longer special to us.  The mail contains advertisements, political notices, bills, the weekly shopper and other trash that immediately hits the trash can.  So now when a letter or a note comes in the mail, its even more treasured than in the past because it is such a rare commodity.  It expresses a sense of love and caring that can never be reflected in an email or text.  A note or letter can be saved away and read later when  the day has been long and hard and a cheerful message is a reminder that someone else cares.

So send someone a note today.  Thank them for being a part of your life.  I guarantee they will savor it long past your next Facebook post.

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nana Kate's First Art Show Booth in Aug 2018

It has been more than a year since I set myself up for business.  I started with a website with the allusion that; “If I post it, they will come” via the magic on the inter-web.  That may seem pretty naive and in fact, it was because I had a lot to learn about the internet and especially about how to sell creative works.

I am naturally a curious person so I did some research and found The Abundant Artist Association, which I joined.  They have a lot of marketing courses on “How to sell your Art Online” which I studied, but only implemented a small portion of their suggestions.  I found out that it is hard to sell your art online and that you have to talk to people.  In November of 2017, a guest conference call on art shows with Owen Garratt opened my eyes to the possibilities of art shows, but I wasn’t intending to sit outside in the heat and humidity to sell cards.

I retired in January of 2018 and decided to give this art business a good try, so I started making more paintings and cards.  Well now I have inventory, but I needed customers.  In May, I received an email from my local art association, Mt. Horeb Area Arts Association, that announced the Black Earth, WI Chamber wanted artists for a new art show in August.  I discussed this with my husband and we decided to enter.

After I applied for a booth I remembered the program on art shows and the discounted training materials and purchased the videos from Marketing Tools For Artists .  I found out I had made my first mistake by signing up for a new, unproven art show, but I was going to make the best of it and prepare a booth that would dazzle the visitors.

Dave and I worked out a lot of details with the art booth, a lot of thinking, doing and arguing, but in I think we put together a pretty nice booth for first-time art showers.  The art show in Black Earth wasn’t very good because it was poorly advertised and not very many visitors.  It was a great opportunity to try out our booth and we learned a lot and simplified our signs so the next weekend when we set up for the Bailey’s Run Vineyard show we were more prepared.

Bailey’s Run was another new show (remember never to go with new shows) and we didn’t sell too much, but I am satisfied that if I were to go to a larger show, I could sell cards.  What I learned from my experience is you need to go to shows that have at least 1000 people to find a few that will like your stuff.  You need a proven show and you have to find the right type of person for your art.  I also learned that I don’t like being outside in the heat and humidity and will try to find shows that are inside, but that is a luxury.  I liked talking to people, and it was fun, but it is not a social event so tell friends to meet you after the show and not try to socialize while you are marketing.

I will continue to look for shows and I will continue to simplify my set up.  It is one of the quickest ways to get new names for the website subscribing by having a show giveaway and hopefully, someday, I will be able to get people to buy cards online too.

Queen Anne's Lace in variouse stages of development

I have always liked Queen Anne’s Lace and felt it would be fun capture it in a painting.  It is August in Wisconsin and they are abundant in the fields so it was no problem getting a close up shot with my trusty little camera.  As I processed the various photographs looking for just the right image to use as a reference photo, I decided on a close up that looks like an every expanding network.

Close up of Queen Anne's Lace and First Wash Watercolor Painting
Queen Anne’s Lace Close up and First Wash Painting

In the middle of the flower I found a dark spot that I thought was a bug or piece of debris so I did not include this spot in the transfer of the image to the watercolor paper.  I didn’t think much more about it until I started to research Queen Anne’s Lace a little more, looking for other macro images of the flower.  What I found out falls into the Extraordinary category in my opinion.

According to the information I reviewed that little dark spot in the center of the flower is a single sterile purple flower.  Botanist’s have not determined the reason for this anomaly.  Is it there to attract pollinators or ward off bad bugs?  Who knows, it is a mystery.  I have been looking at Queen Anne’s Lace for over 60 years and this is news to me.

I am inserting a link if you are interested in learning more about this little mystery:  Queen Anne’s Lace Close Up

As I  continue on my painting, I will add pictures of the progress.  Hopefully you will have had a chance to make you own close up examination and find that little purple flower.  Send in a comment when you find the flower and let’s see how many Extraordinarians we can get into action.

The Red Center Flower has been added to the Queen Anne's Lace painting in progress.
Queen Anne’s Lace 21 Aug 2018 with red center flower

I have been away from my painting for a couple of weeks getting ready for my first art show (more on that in future blog).  I added the purple center flower and started to detail the stem colors in the upper right side.  This is going to take a long time to put in all the details so I may not add a section to this blog very frequently, but I will keep you in informed.

Funny thing though, as I work on this picture I can’t seem to get the story of the Danish Queen pricking herself while making lace and leaving a drop of blood in the center of the flower.  Instead of the Danish Queen, I think of Jesus and that a single drop of His blood was all that was needed to blanket my sins so they became white as snow.  The power of the blood, that’s what the song says because just one drop give eternal life.

Watercolor close up of Queen Anne's Lace Progess 05 Sep 2018
Queen Anne’s Lace Progress 05 Sep 2018

I have been away from this painting for a little while as I worked on another painting for a special customer, but I am back at it and wondering why I chose to do something with so much detail.  Each tiny flower needs to have shading added and trying to follow the direction of the stems gets pretty confusing.  I like where this is going, but I can only focus on it for about an hour or so at a time.  I can’t say how long it will take, probably at least another week if I work steady each day, but I think the end result will be pretty intriguing.  Thanks for following along.

Oh, I have also created an Instagram account if anyone is interested you can find me at @nanakatesartcards

Close up of Queen Anne's Lace Squared off from original
Queen Anne’s Lace Closeup

After several more hours of work I have completed the painting and created the card.  Please check out the card in the link below.  I also made a canvas reproduction in a 12 x 18 in size which really looks great on the wall.  Send me a note if you might be interested in one for yourself.

Queen Anne’s Lace Close Up Card

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