Understanding how to mix colors opens the eyes to a whole new way of seeing colors. I’ve been playing around with paints my whole life, yet it wasn’t until one watercolor class a few years back in Oregon that I finally learned how pigments interact. So many interesting colors can be made with just two tubes of paint. Add in a third, and you’ve got everything you need to build a harmonious palette. And I’m not even talking about red, yellow, and blue. Rarely do I feel the need to mix the whole spectrum. Take my most recent portrait, for example.

90 percent of this painting was created using just two pigments: ultramarine blue and burnt sienna. This is my ultra-favorite combination, with which I can get warm rusty browns, tans, gray browns, neutral grays (from pale smoke to almost black), dull blue-grays, and true blues. Right out of the tube, ultra blue is almost violet. Even better, it has a fine sediment that settles as the paint dries, creating beautiful crackly textures.


Another paint I used sparingly for Guthrie was yellow ochre. It was essential for showing the creamy colors in his fur, and I used it primarily on his left side, where the hazy sunlight shines down on him. Warm  and brighter tones always suggest the form is closer to our eye and nearer to the light. Cool and darker tones, such as on his right side and the floor, indicate shadow. Obviously Guthrie’s fur is not blue, so this treatment is subtle, but effective. Warm = burnt sienna or ochre. Cool = ultra blue. What more do you need?  (Well, just a dab of red-orange here and there on his collar, and a careful splash of phthalo blue in the highlights of his eyes and nose. But that’s it. I promise.)


This is pretty much all that went into this painting. Just add water.


Boots Moves to the Cape

Beach CatRelocation isn’t easy. Even after you’ve moved into your new home, there’s a whole new neighborhood to get to know, new friends to make. Boots grew up in the Green Mountains of Vermont and just moved to Cape Cod, where the beaches are full of fun things for a cat to explore. His owner wanted to announce this special event to friends and family with a custom postcard, so together we designed this little illustration. It’s painted in watercolor and includes some favorite shells and lucky stones. Good luck, Boots!

Tips for Photographing Pets

When preparing for a portrait, occasionally I have the opportunity to meet and photograph your pet myself. Usually, however, the photos you send me are the only reference I have to guide me in my drawing and painting. An accurate portrait depends on clear photos showing good detail. The more photos I have to work with the clearer my understanding of your pet’s features and personality.

USE NATURAL LIGHT. The best light is outside – if you must be indoors, try to position your pet near a window or door in order to let in the most light possible. Avoid using a flash because it can cause washed-out color and red-eye. Also be aware that full sun can sometimes distort your pet’s color too. Look at your photos. Does the color, fur, and other features look accurate?

MAKE YOUR PET COMFORTABLE. Some pets don’t mind posing for the camera, while others find it uncomfortable. Allow them to do something they enjoy. Incorporating a favorite activity (like fetching) brings out the pet’s personality. Sometimes you can get terrific pictures while your pet is resting. If your pet is being grouchy, give them their space and try again later when they are in a better mood.

HAVE SOMEONE ASSIST YOU. This is a good way to get great profile photos. And an affectionate, perky expression can be obtained by making noises or by holding up a favorite toy or treat. If you want your pet looking right at the camera, remember to have your assistant directly behind you and your camera.

BE READY. Take advantage of sudden moments of curiosity and playfulness.

BE AT YOUR PET’S LEVEL. Position yourself at the same level as your pet to avoid awkward perspective.

GET CLOSE UP. Fill the frame with the pet and eliminate distracting background. You should also take some photos that show close-up detail of the face and head.


In addition, if you would like more than one pet in the same portrait, it is important to photograph the two pets together to provide me with an accurate scale.


You should include

1. Two or more photos showing the entire pet (sitting, lying down, etc). This will be useful in designing the overall composition.

2. Several close-up photos of the pet’s face, showing details and true color of the eyes, ears, nose, and fur.

3. If there will be two pets in the same portrait, include a photo with both pets side-by-side.

Framing Pastel Artwork

An original pastel painting is an investment – an investment of time and skill and passion by the artist, and a financial investment by the lucky person who gets to hang it on the living room wall. It is so important that this type of work be framed in a way that protects the pastel pigment and keeps the art and the mat looking good for years. Many of my clients have questions about proper framing, so I’ll explain my recommendations below.

When applied to a surface (i.e. paper), pastel spreads out in tiny particles of pigment that have an ability to reflect light. This reflective nature gives pastel paintings their depth and luminosity, but the particles of pigment are delicate, so one must be very careful when handling pastel work. Tiny pastel bits clinging to the paper and to each other can easily become dislodged during transport or even over time. This is why many pastel artists use a fixative spray.

Each of my pastel paintings is sprayed with a fine, clear fixative that keeps the pastel particles in place. Some pastel artists prefer not to use fixative, since it can darken the colors slightly. I have found that two very light coats are enough to stabilize the pigments without altering the color. Especially since I ship my artwork to clients all over the country, I am not willing to risk damage to my pastel paintings. Each painting is mounted with linen hinging tape to a foam board back, sealed with a sheet of protective glassine paper, and covered with another sheet of foam board. It is shipped unframed, along with the following information:

To protect your painting and ensure it’s long life,

• Never touch the surface of the painting, and keep it away from water.

• Keep the painting flat until it is framed.

• Have the portrait framed as soon as possible. The frame should include archival matting materials and UV protective glass.

• A spacer (inner mat) placed between the painting and the outer mat should be cut to provide a “trough” at the bottom of the painting. This added feature will catch any pastel dust that falls in the future, preventing a dusty-looking mat.

• Display the portrait away from humidity, direct sunlight, and high heat.

• To clean the framed painting, use a slightly damp cloth on the glass. Do not spray the glass, as the liquid can run below the frame and contact the painting.


The inner mat (spacer) is really important! It is cut with a larger opening (about 1/4″ larger on each side) to create a space around the edges of the painting that catches any pastel dust that falls. Paintings can be matted in elaborate ways – with 2 or more mats in different colors – but without this crucial inner layer, a pastel painting will eventually look bad. Even with fixative applied, over time some pastel dust will fall and make the beautiful mats dirty. Years back my mother framed some of her larger pastel pieces without any mat at all, and without a space to catch falling pastel dust, it has accumulated near the bottom of the paintings. It’s fixable with a new frame job, but could have been prevented. The diagram above illustrates the components of a properly framed pastel painting.