It’s in the bag 2019


It’s that time of year again.  It’s the Post Road Art “It’s in the bag” competition.   $33 gets you a bag of materials and you have to work your magic to create something.    This year it was a doozy!   This is what we got : 



Prominent in the bag were materials for making poured acrylic paintings.   Now this is something I have absolutely no experience with.   After a bit of googling and YouTubing I worked out that you put a lot of paint in a cup,  pour it onto a board, shoogle it around a bit, drop in some alcohol ink and voila! Painting. 

It’s a lot harder than it looks. 

I got paint everywhere.  On the table,  up my nose (!) on my tea mug, everywhere.  This is what I finally ended up with : 



Kinda cool but I don’t think I’ll be doing a lot more of it.   And what I forgot was that these things take days to dry so I didn’t even get to enter it into the competition. 

So what to do?   Birds of course!   I first thought of a peacock but after trying I wasn’t happy.   I next thought of a toucan which seemed like a better bet but I messed up the beak which blew out into a big purple splodge.   This one ended up being the poured one above.    

After coming back to the peacock I decided I quite liked it so it was one of my entries.    Since I didn’t have anything to lose I tried the toucan again in a more traditional manner and he came out quite well.  Here he is : 



Phew – all framed up and submitted.  Why do I always leave these things to the last minute? 



Mt Auburn St, Cambridge – Take 2

Mt Auburn St, Cambridge MA. Michele Clamp. Watercolor on Yup 12”x9”

I was quite pleased with the first version of this but then I had a crazy idea of trying a second version on Yupo paper. This is a synthetic paper which doesn’t absorb paint or water which means the paint behaves in a completely different way to cotton paper.

I had a blast with this and, due to the non absorbent nature of the surface. the colors remain bright and vivid. There were regions where the paint just didn’t stick at all – see on the left – but it was definitely worthwhile having a go.

I had a final experiment on hot press paper (4th in the collage). I don’t think I’m done with this scene yet but I’ll take a break for now.

Cathedral of St Joseph, San Jose

Cathedral of St Joseph, San Jose. Michele Clamp. Watercolor 14x11

Cathedral of St Joseph, San Jose. Michele Clamp. Watercolor 14×11

The past few days I’ve been learning from Joseph Zbukvic’s painting.  After four days of this I was a bit jaded and losing enthusiasm.   It made me think how much of the satisfaction of painting is putting down your own interpretation of a scene.  Not just a straight representation but how you view something and which elements interest you.   All the time I was doing the Zbukvic copies that part of my brain was switched off and thus a big part of the joy of painting.   And no enjoyment = bad paintings.

So I was riffling through my back catalogue of ‘things I’d like to paint’ and I remembered our visit to San Jose last year.   I didn’t have any sketches but I’d taken some photos and one of the Basilica looked like a good candidate.   Here it is  



It’s not great as is but there’s lots I like.  The bright sun on the church walls,  the general shape of the building,  the palm tree.   And overall is the sense of California sunshine.     

There was a fair bit of rearranging and invention.    I took out various pieces – the tree, the front car and a lot of the signposts.    There was also some rearrangement – the background building encroaches on the church so I shifted it to one side. 

Off I went and tried to remember the guidelines : 

 – Big shapes with smaller regions of smaller shapes. 

 – Keep those values fairly constant within the big shapes. 

 – Economy of brushstrokes – no dabbing! 

 – Keep the color palette small.    


I also moved back to Fabriano Artistico paper.    I generally prefer this to most other papers.   The color seems to flow better across the surface and the colors end up brighter.    Arches in particular soaks up water like crazy which can dull colors when it dries. 

So – mid way through what did we have? 



Not too shabby!  Shapes are good,   Values are pretty good,   Darks are being connected so the cars don’t look stuck on.   And most importantly I was actually enjoying it! 

There was one thing, however.  The shadows between the pillars on the front of the church were bothering me.   So in the evening, sitting downstairs with the ipad,    I imported the photo and overdoodled on it with the procreate drawing app.   I pushed back the shadows and added in some elements I planned to add in in the next stage.


Ha!   I was pretty pleased with this.    Definitely need to lift off those shadows and my plan of a large foreground shadow fitted in well.

So here’s the end result.   I’m pretty happy.    



Learning Time – Zbukvic Day 4

Well that was one hell of a day. Sometimes you just want to pack everything up, put it on ebay, and take up golf. And I hate golf.

Only 3 paintings done today and none went well. Muddy washes, dodgy backgrounds, clumsy finishing flourishes. Nothing worked.

But let’s go through them anyway. Number one :

This was probably the most successful. Nice light on the sunlit part of the building and the foreground shadows work well. Not much else to recommend it though.

Onto number 2 :

Blergh. Not much to say about this. Didn’t enjoy it one bit.

And number 3:

I’d been quite looking forward to doing this as lighter buildings with dark accents are generally easier. It was not to be however.

Takeaways :

  • I’m fed up.

  • I probably need to stop doing these before I lose all enjoyment.

  • I’m fed up.

The main thing that is so frustrating is that I have no idea how to improve these. I know they’re bad – I just can’t see what to change to make them better.


Learning Time – Zbukvic Day 3

Stepping it up a bit today and completed 4 paintings. All are from Zbukvic originals. I was hoping that a fast turnaround would speed up the learning process and consolidate some things into muscle memory.

Before the pictures a summary. None of these came out as paintings. They’re obviously sketches or studies but I started to soak in a few things.

  • Shapes. A few big shapes, more smaller shapes. Make sure the negative space is also an interesting shape.

  • Values. Keep the values even in the big shapes (with a little variation for interest) and you only really need 4 or 5 to make the picture work.

  • Color – ugh. Still need to work on this.

  • Texture. This was hard. Mr Zbukvic has lots of lovely slight variation in his washes which I really struggle to get.

  • Drawing – Surprisingly simple to draw out these paintings. Lots of simplification has already been done by Mr Z.

Anything else? I think I improved as the day went on and was making the paintings more mine than copying the original. No great breakthroughs but definitely worthwhile.

So to the paintings – in reverse order :

This was the last and I think the most successful. I’d got used to the sequence of washes – lightest in sky and the sunlit parts of the buildings. Second the background and shadows on the buildings. 3rd – cars and dark recesses. 4th and final – people and the foreground and other bits and pieces.

I’d also started to get used to some of the wet in wet for windows and background mistiness.

Next one – number 3 :

Struggled with this one. The original has lots of variation in the darks which I just wasn’t getting. The strong composition makes this one – especially the foreground shadow – which is of course all Mr Z’s doing.

Next one – number 2

This had quite a lot I liked. The color came out well. The combination of dull orange and the purple shadows worked without being too in your face. The center of interest has nice lots of choppy darks and lights which read well without specifically being anything. So not great but not too bad.

Finally – number 1

Again this didn’t come out too badly. I was feeling my way at this point and you can see the background washes are a bit muddy. Nice choppiness in the center of interest and the combination of darks and lights worked well.

So it was a busy day. As usual I’m too close to things to really assess whether it was worthwhile. It’s certainly a different beast copying paintings rather than scenes. The simplification and composition has already been done for you which are two things you don’t have to worry about. Once the drawing is done it’s a case of identifying which value wash goes where and trying not to get too fiddly. I think after another day of these (I have nine in total to have a go at) I’ll concentrate on extreme simplification of some of my own scenes.