Inspiration (noun)

1. stimulation to do creative work

2. somebody or something that inspires

3. creativeness

4. good idea

5. divine influence

Synonyms: stimulus, spur, motivation, encouragement, muse

Everything about the word “inspiration” is beautiful to me. Recently, I had the revelation that in my quest to inspire – I have been inspired!

It turned out, that in my quest to inspire others – I had found my own inspiration. Now I could bring the dried fruit to life!

About two months ago, I joined a Facebook watercolor group. Since I’m a professional artist and the site had many beginners, I felt concerned that sharing my hyper-realistic artwork might discourage them. Several times I found myself writing, “I want to inspire, not intimidate.”

Because so many people viewed my illustrations as photographs, I shared attachments such as tracings and reference photos. I learned that I had to label my reference photo clearly, as sometimes it was mistakenly viewed as another painting.

The place where I currently live is small, so I have stored boxes of my old art files in a storage unit. It was quite an adventure to pull out several of those boxes that I hadn’t looked in for years. In my quest to find old attachments, I came across a folder filled with photos of dried fruit. Many years ago, I had intended to create a portfolio painting of them.

I put my boxes back in storage, but saved the folder of dried fruit on my desk. I also saved some slide pages that held other possibilities.

Those dried fruit photos were almost 30 years old, and I was still intrigued by their beauty. I probably didn’t paint them all those years ago because I was too busy with paid assignments. Back then, last thing I wanted to do when I wasn’t illustrating was to paint something for myself.

It turned out that in my quest to inspire others, I had found my own inspiration. Now I could bring those dried fruit to life!

The reflections on the dates carried subtle blue, red and yellow tones, which I loved.

Many people have asked whether I have tutorials or online classes available. In the mid 1980’s I was a part-time college art instructor. I very much enjoyed teaching illustration techniques and I’ve written about it on this blog. (#17 TEACHING AND LEARNING)

Explaining my process is something I would love to do, but “performing” for a camera is challenging. The editing and production would be time consuming and a huge distraction from my other creative pursuits. This blog has been an easier way for me to share. Eventually, I do plan to add some videos.

For this post, I am going to explain how I work with much more detail.

My first step was to create my layout. I scanned my photo choices and corrected a few things using Photoshop. I had to decide between an aerial or three quarter view. I preferred the detail of the aerial view and went with that.

My photo reference was a dream. Rarely is there a photo that I don’t significantly improve upon. I struggled trying to decide whether to make my painting 8×10 or 8×12. Since most of my work was usually 8×10, I cropped off two inches of lovely fruit and it wasn’t an easy decision.

I ended up making one correction. There was a single date that wasn’t attractive enough for me. I replaced it with another one (copied from a different photo.)

Once my layout was decided, I made a print to look while I worked. It was exactly the same size as my painting. Then I printed a whisper of my layout onto my watercolor paper. I always work on 140 lb. hot-press watercolor paper. My current brand is TH Saunders.

I mounted the paper onto a drafting board by first wetting  the back with a damp sponge. Then I stapled gummed brown paper tape around the edges to hold it taut once it dried.

For years, it was tricky to position an entire sheet of frisket film over my watercolor paper. If the frisket wavered and stuck to itself, it became a useless mess. About a year ago, I discovered an easy trick to laying it down. I peeled back only one corner and cut off the backing. Then I laid the frisket down in position, with the sticky area holding it in place.

I peeled off the remaining backing with a sliding motion while pressing it down at the same time. This was so much easier!

Once the frisket film covered my artwork, I took a #2 pencil and outlined all the areas I planned to cut. With a brand new blade in my #11 exacto knife, I gently cut the film.

I painted the darkest areas first. They would delineate the lighter areas. Since dyes stain the paper, the paint wouldn’t bleed much if touched with a wet brush. A little bleeding was actually more realistic and created a softer edge.

I began my painting by painting the darkest areas first.

I loved watching it unfold. I saved a lot of apricots for the end and that was a bit tiring because of all the delicate brushwork on them.

In this example, I painted details on the apricot first; most of them were washed away when color was added. I went back to add the details again and continually smoothed them with a damp brush.

I always keep a tissue handy to dab up paint if it looks too dark. Wetting an area can lift off some color, but not much. I used a typewriter eraser to help lighten many areas on this painting.

In some cases, I will re-mask an area. This allows me to paint without focusing on the edges. (I did not want the orange to get into the green above). After positioning and cutting the frisket, I gently peeled the film off with tweezers. Next, I burnished (pressed down) the edges. I share my burnishing tools below. A sharp pair of tweezers is very important.

Since the fig was darker than the walnut, I painted it first and left the nut inside masked. Like the apricot, I added details first and then washed over them. Then I added them back. I did this many times. I sure looked forward to painting the nut inside!

I share a look at my colorful palette. Gouache is visible on the top left. For velvety black areas, it worked really well.

In this image, I am nearing home stretch. I saved the pineapple for last, and didn’t closely follow my reference. I decided to eyeball a pineapple on a different photo that didn’t have as much harsh detail. I wished I had explored other choices ahead of time on my layout. I loved everything about this painting except for how the pineapple came out.

I have been called a perfectionist quite often. A perfect painting is not really possible or even preferable. I always hope to learn something from every painting of mine.

What did I learn from this painting? I will share it with you now.

I have always been aware that there is a difference between the front and back of my watercolor paper. Even though I use hot-press, it is not perfectly smooth. The front is more random and pebbly. The back has more of a screen-like texture.

When I looked at close-ups of my painting, I was puzzled as to why it had such a prominent texture. It almost looked like I had worked on canvas.

Then it dawned on me. I had painted on the back of my watercolor paper. With my eyesight issues, it was harder for me to notice the difference. I also didn’t think it mattered.

Sigh. Well I definitely learned something important from this painting!

Coming soon – Judy Unger Puzzle Shop!

About Judy

I'm an illustrator by profession. At this juncture in my life, I am pursuing my dream of writing and composing music. Every day of my life is precious!
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10 Responses to #74 A DATE WITH INSPIRATION

  1. Trina Hollier says:

    Very informative article Judy. I enjoyed reading about your process.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Carmina Weatherspoon says:

    Thank you so very much for this insightful peek into your process! I love your work!


  3. Mari San says:

    Brilliant work! I love how bright and life-like it is. Thank you for your explanation of your process. I never realised there frisket films – that is quite a useful thing to learn and I love how you showed your tools. I look forward to reading more of your blog!


    • Judy says:

      I’m thrilled to read your comment, Mari San! I spent a lot of time adding many details, in the hope that it would be helpful. Please let me know how it goes with the frisket film. Don’t forget to get “high tack.” Thank you also for your compliments on my artwork!


  4. Sandy Frost says:

    Thanks for a fabulously descriptive post Judy! I have never heard of frisket sheets, but have seen another artist use the same technique with ordinary clear packing tape, although I have yet to try it.
    I am definitely one of those who would love to see some videos. Maybe just a live zoom class where there is no editing involved? Not sure how far you can get in an hour or two with the work you do, but I’m sure it would be time well spent. Thank you for sharing here and on FB – your work is inspiring to me.


    • Judy says:

      I’m so happy my post was helpful for you, Sandy. I appreciate your encouragement – if I do a Zoom class, I’ll always remember that you suggested it! I’ll need to get a better computer set-up in order to do that. Someday!
      Let me know how it goes if you try frisket. I’m always careful not to tear the paper – wow, using clear packing tape sounds much stickier.
      Thank you so much again.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Carole Heath says:

    Absolutely intrigued by your amazingly gorgeous art. I love to paint flowers, birds, portraits. Well really just about everything. I’m anxious to try some of your techniques. Thanks for being so generous with your gift.


    • Judy says:

      Thank you so much for reading my blog and commenting, Carole. I am thrilled to hear that you will try some of the techniques I’ve shared. Please let me know how it goes. I appreciate your compliments!


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