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Newsletter Summer 2009 Number Two

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Newsletter Summer 2009 Number Two

NEWSLETTER Summer 2009 No. 2

Greetings from the mountains of western Maine!

I just got back from some time spent with my daughter and granddaughters, so I am happily back in my studio again. Midsummer is in full swing here. The meadow is full of black-eyed Susans, evening primrose, and ripe blueberries. I have been making regular visits to the pond next door with a drawing student of mine, where we have been watching and drawing the wood ducks and a young green heron.

Tiger swallowtails still continued to hold my interest for most of July. I spent most of the month on a larger watercolor of a swallowtail on the lilacs. If you would like to see photos of it in progress, the saga of its painting is told in my blog on the Fine Art America website (at It is a larger and more complex painting than I have done yet in watercolor.

I am pleased with how well the overall composition worked out. My goal was to make the butterfly appear to float in a three-dimensional space, and what I did worked the way I had hoped it would. I also designed it with a lot of strong diagonal lines so that the whole painting would have a fine feeling of motion.

I purposely broke rules doing this one, and my gamble paid off. For one thing, you should never, ever put the focal point of a painting like a bull’s-eye in the center of a painting. In this painting the area of highest contrast is at the butterfly’s head, where it is silhouetted against the sky. And that is dead center in the middle of the square. But it works, because the butterfly itself is so clearly the subject of the painting, and it is all on the left side of the composition, moving toward the right.

The other thing to NOT do is to keep the foreground so separate from the background that you use totally different colors to paint each. Generally speaking, you need to mix background colors into the foreground, and vice versa, so that the whole painting will hang together. But I didn’t want the painting to hang together. I wanted the butterfly to really be suspended above the background. And it worked, because the butterfly is purposely painted with warm colors, sharp edges, and high contrast, while the background is painted with cooler colors, soft edges and mid-range values.

I have one more tiger swallowtail painting that is still in progress. You will have to wait until it is finished before I unveil it. I will only say that it is a 20” diameter round oil painting on canvas, and leave it at that.

I spent a little time on wild strawberries this month, too. Around here they ripen in late June or early July. They are so tiny, but so tasty! I put a strawberry plant in a pot in early June and have watched it and drawn it and photographed it as it bloomed and grew. Right now it is here on my work desk, and has put out many runners with tiny plants on them. When I put it back outside, it will be a whole patch of strawberries. I have a page in my study book on strawberries now for future reference, and have also completed one graphite botanical drawing of a plant in bloom.

My hardback study book is an essential part of the art-making process for me. That’s where I really look closely at something and work out how to draw it accurately. Sometimes that even involves using a magnifying glass or microscope. After that I use the drawings and notes in it for reference material for finished drawings and paintings.

This month’s free art card is a miniature version of the swallowtail painting. Art cards (or ACEO’s) are a collectible form of miniature art the same size as baseball trading cards. Print this one on good stiff photo paper, cut it out, and start your own collection, if you wish. I give you permission to print or reproduce this image as you choose. (If you are reading this in my FAA blog, and want a free copy of this ACEO, email me and I will send it to you.)

For more information on “Swift River Treasures,” my art-making process, or recent work, see my Fine Art America site at You can also search for me on as Betsy Gray Bell under the “Artists” button in the top menu bar. (The drop-down box under it has a search feature.) Fine Art America offers a print-on-demand service, including matting, framing, and shipping. They sell greeting cards, too, and several of my works posted there are available in that format.

Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go and do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive. (Gil Bailie)

I hope that you enjoy looking at the art as much as I have enjoyed making it! I would love to hear from you, too, so please do reply with comments.