Watercolor Wednesday – Yellow Crook Necked Squash

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Felt Farmers Market by Handmade FamilyToday, I’m showcasing the final painting from the current fruits and vegetable series. There are ten items in our Felt Farmers Market, and our goal is to have a painting of each of them for marketing, and to make some related products for them.  This week I was having trouble deciding whether to paint the squash or an eggplant. Carrots crossed my mind to briefly, but I decided to put them off until sometime in the spring when I’m talking about the garden that I didn’t get around to planting this year. The yellow crook necked squash is always a favorite among the kids, because it’s one of our larger veggies, and its shape really sets it apart from the rest. Since I only did the one painting this week, I decided to photograph it as I worked and sort of talk about my current process a little bit.

Toned background of painting by Jeffrey Johnson of Handmade FamilyWhen I graduated from art school in 2000 I wasn’t really sure what to do with myself. This was in the days before having an online store was common, and when “Social Media” really only consisted of message boards. I lived in a small town, and was waiting for my wife to graduate so I got a job working retail to pay the bills and pass the time. During the four years between graduating and moving to Saint Louis, I got into miniature wargaming. The game itself was fun, but what I especially loved was building and painting the little models and creating scenery for them. I don’t really game any more, choosing to use that time on being a better artist and crafter, but there are a lot of things that I learned during those four years. Working in collaboration with a group to tell a story. Putting effort into all the parts of a project makes a much more satisfying presentation. Using the details put in at the beginning to do the heavy lifting for the rest of the work.

All of my paintings begin with a detailed line drawing. Not just a light drawing underneath that will be hidden with layers of paint, but one that uses heavy and varied lines to create levels of detail. This Squash painting started off with red ColErase pencil, then edges were sharpened and details were picked out with brown ColErase and black Verithin. Finally, Gouache shadow layerusing a black Prismacolor I add in the outlines and heavier lines. Then the painting gets an overall wash of watercolor to give the painting some texture and tone.

After the background has dried, I get out the Burnt Umber gouache to begin defining the lights and shadow areas. Gouache is an opaque watercolor which will cover over the areas beneath it, but can also be worked into later so when we go over it with the transparent watercolors later it really deepens them and feathers a bit on the edges. This is where the painting really starts to come alive for me, as we’re able to see where the different objects overlap, and how they actually interact with each other. Much of the work on defining the form of each squash is done at this point, so when I go to add color I don’t have to think so much about where everything is in relation to each other.

Adding background elementsI do the sun element next so I can see how all the other colors in the painting balance against it as I work. I like to add little geometric elements like this to the more portrait style images I make because it gives them just a little bit more visual interest. I love how each color of transparent watercolor interacts with the layers before and after it. I don’t know about other watercolorists, but when I’m working there are certain color “recipes” that I use. For example on the sun here I used orange, then a thin wash of purple to add some definition to the bottom, and then some rose madder which is a red/brown to warm and deepen the purple.Yellow Crook-Necked Squash Watercolor by Jeffrey Johnson of Handmade Family

Aaaaand, it’s finished! The yellows weren’t photographing well enough to do a play by play of the final painting. For colors like yellow, I’ll often use purple to deepen and cool down the shadows (using complementary colors in shadow areas is great for making the overall color richer) and prussian blue to warm and darken other areas. Finally, I use just a bit of white gouache to add highlights and rim lighting on the edges.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this look into my process. My goal is to do at least one painting a week, and two or more when possible as part of Watercolor Wednesday. All the paintings go up for sale in my web shop as soon as I write a blog post about them. If you’d like to take an active hand in deciding what gets painted as well as receiving one of the paintings each month I have a reward tier on my Patreon page that includes a painting plus several other perks, like a digital sketch book and discounts in our shop. Please check it out!

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