Archive for the ‘Paintings’ Category

How to Avoid Painter’s Block with a Commission

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

I was recently commissioned to paint a picture of Mount Hosmer and naturally the Fernie Ghostrider. Here is my original painting the lady saw which she liked:

Fernie Ghostrider, Original Painting of Mount Hosmer by Kendra Smith Dixson, copyright 2002

Often times when I get a commission I tend to freeze up. It’s a lot of pressure to paint a commission and it can give you “painter’s block” if you don’t mitigate those feelings. Why is it so much more difficult to paint a picture for someone else than for yourself? For one thing it is hard enough to “get it right” when you’re painting from your own vision, but it’s very difficult to paint what’s in someone else’s head.

  • How do you know if this is what they had in mind?
  • What if they don’t like it?
  • Can I use my painter’s intuition or do they want it to be “just so”?
  • What is “just so”?

Questions like these and more can float around your head and block the creative flow.

Well, last weekend I heard a suggestion that may change the way you think about commissions forever. I was taking Alex Fong’s watercolour workshop, The Magic of Watercolour, and he was talking about commissions. He said that his trick to take the pressure off is to paint three different versions of the commission and then give the client a choice.

“Paint three?” you may be asking, “isn’t a commission hard enough work in the first place, let alone tackling it three times?” Yes, a commission is hard work, but part of the hard work is the struggle with the mental block of painting a commission. Imagine how much easier the paint would flow if you could lift that block and paint without any of the associated pressures of painting a commission. It would be freeing.

Painting three paintings can take longer than painting one, but I have always found that in painting multiple pictures I tend to improve as I go. You will start to see shapes better. You will loosen up and carry your brush with a lighter touch using bold confident strokes. Here is a chance to learn and grow as an artist.

Your client will be impressed that you have provided them with three choices. Plus, as Alex says, it alleviates that awkward pause while you’re wondering “do they like it? Gosh, what if they don’t like it?” when the client first sees your finished piece. This way they have a choice, they can pick their favourite. It actually takes the pressure off the client as well who may be asking themselves “Will I like it?”, “What if I don’t like it?”, “What will I say?”.

I have tried this approach a few times before and it has worked great. My clients have been thrilled and once I even sold two pieces instead of one!

Here is my latest commission which I actually painted four times. Which one do you think she will choose?

Legend Lives On, Fernie Ghost Rider Painting by Kendra Dixson. copyright 2011

Mist Rises on the Ghostrider, Fernie Ghost Rider Painting by Kendra Dixson. copyright 2011

Indian Princess, Fernie Ghost Rider Painting by Kendra Dixson. copyright 2011

Fernie Ghostrider Painting by Kendra Dixson. copyright 2011

Snowy Watercolour Winter Stream in 10 Steps

Sunday, October 23rd, 2011

Watercolour Winter Stream Step 6

Last weekend I painted this Winter Stream watercolour painting. Here are the steps I took to create it…

1. Underpainting

First I wet the entire paper and did a wet-in-wet wash (the brush is full of wet paint which flows into the wet surface of the pre-wetted paper) using cobalt blue, raw sienna and permanent rose.

I was careful not to cover the entire surface of the paper with colour so that the wash would incorporate some white sweeps (simply the wet paper). I was also careful not to use too many brush strokes which would have blended the colours together not only dulling them but creating a flat wash. I wanted the paper to sing with light and colour.

2. Misty Background Trees

Next I waited for the paper to completely dry and then I painted in a soft layer of misty tree shapes in the background on the right, seemingly the ones which are going to be behind the stream as it curves off to the left of the viewer. What I’m actually painting isn’t the trees themselves, I’m painting what will become the shadowed snow on the tree branches, so I’m careful to paint softly and leave some light areas.

In the spot where the sun is going to be catching the branches I use raw sienna rather than the cobalt blue / permanent rose mixture and I leave some white areas. Notice how I didn’t paint the trees right to the bottom branches; I used rounded shapes to give the impression that the trees are sitting behind snowbanks.

Watercolour Winter Stream Step 1

3. Add Contrast

To add drama I now begin to paint the darker shades on the trees using loose flowing brush strokes with purposeful yet random ‘holes’ to represent the snow on the trees.

I have prepped several colours and I alternate which puddles I dip into as I paint so that the trees will have some life to them and not be one flat shape. Some of the colours I have prepared are cobalt blue, permanent rose, dioxazine purple, hunter’s green and indigo. The colours sit next to each other on my palette and they tend to run into each other too so it creates some nice shades and nuances.

Another artist asked me how I paint such exact shapes. Actually I am not painting each individual shape. I am using a photograph for reference but in the process of trying to capture the essence of the snow on the trees I am also moving my brush in a rather helter skelter way so that my painting will still look like a painting.

4. Paint Around Important Mid-Ground Shapes

I’ve decided that I’d like to paint a tall leafless tree on the right side of the painting for balance. I want it to look like it has snow on it so it’s important that I establish the shapes before I paint in the dark shadows on the background trees.

Since this scene is backlit I paint in the snow which will go on my new tree using combinations of cobalt blue and permanent rose. When it’s dry I add the branches under the snow and I continue painting the dark sweeps onto the background trees, careful to paint around the branches on my mid-ground tree.

Watercolour Winter Stream Step 2

5. Tackle the Water

The water is a lot easier than it looks but it may take a bit of practice. I very lightly drew in my stream with pencil so that I would have an idea of where the water was to go. I don’t always draw first but with this process I am going to need to be quick so there will be no time to hesitate part way through.

Once I start painting the water I must stay within the area of my stream. I did not wet the paper first. I used a lot of paint and made sure that it stayed nice and wet as I worked from the top of the stream to the bottom. Since the stream is broken up by a bar of snow I treated the top and bottom as two different sections. I didn’t want the top part to dry while I was working on the bottom part or vice versa.

In order for the reflections to work out I needed the paint to still be wet. So as soon as the top shape was completely filled in I immediately dripped in some verticle swipes of very dark indigo. Then I mixed some white acrylic paint with a tiny bit of water and dropped in a few delicate vertical stripes. Perhaps the most important part of this is that once I laid in these colours I did not touch it any further. I let the paint do it’s thing.

The bottom section of the stream I painted a little differently than the top, only because it was bigger and I was afraid it might dry before I could get to the vertical stripes which create the illusion of reflections. Switching from one colour to the next I filled the stream shape with overlapping vertical stripes which were wet enough to blend seamlessly together yet not too wet that they lose the vertical feeling.

I worked quickly and then again while the stream was still quite damp I brushed in some vertical stripes of watered down acrylic paint. Not too watered down mind you because then it would have backwashed into the paint and caused some blossoms.

To remind the paint that I wanted it to stay in this vertical pattern I tilted my paper up so that the paint would run vertically and not pool sideways.

Finally I added some deep indigo just under each snowbank while the paint was still slightly damp. This let it bleed just a bit and it visually lifts the snow off the water just a teeny bit.

Watercolour Winter Stream Step 3

6. Complete the Water Illusion by Creating a Surface

The water now has beautiful reflections but this will sometimes unwittingly draw the viewer’s eye right off the bottom of the page. Where does the water stop?

Let’s create the illusion of the stream’s surface which will immediately give the water incredible depth and at the same time keep the viewer’s eye well within your painting.

For this step to work your water has to be dry or very near dry. Using a slightly damp or nearly dry clean brush, ‘draw’ a few horizontal lines across the surface of your water. Gently dab the line with a paper towel if it didn’t lift on it’s own. By lift I mean that the pigment lifted off the paper leaving a pale white line.

Be careful not to over-do this step. It is so much fun and so effective that you might get carried away and if you have too many lines it can be distracting and actually take away from the overall illusion. Just a few will do.

7. Liven up the Darks

Once I finished the darks on the trees I realised that they were quite overwhelming and a bit dead, void of light. To liven them up I dropped some Holbein Grey Blue into the bits which were still damp. Holbein Grey Blue is a chalky blue opaque watercolour so it can stand up against the rich darks. This was not a planned step in my painting but I love what it did for it.

8. Add Form to the Snow

In the above picture the water is believable but the snow appears to be flat as if covering a concrete surface. In nature snow is undulating and poofy; it has form. The magic happens when you add shadows to the snow. Using a lost and found line paint the top surface of a snow pile and then with clean water bleed out the top edge so that the shadow has gradation. A shadowed edge along the side of the stream virtually lifts the snow above the water and creates snow banks.

Watercolour Winter Stream Step 4

9. Calm the Distractions

A successful painting will have an area of focus and draw your eye around the painting. You can sometimes pick out problem areas or distractions by squinting at your painting.

Squint at the above picture and what sticks out to you the most? For me it is the bright snow on the branches of the trees on the left. This creates two problems: one, those trees should actually be in shadow, they are too bright which betrays the direction of light, and two, they are distracting the viewer’s attention away from the main focus which is the light shining down on the stream.

Using a soft wash of cobalt blue and permanent rose I can gently eliminate this distraction and direct the eye to the area of most light (which in hindsight I wish I had put more to the right and not so close to the centre of the painting, but that’s another topic).

Watercolour Winter Stream Step 5

10. Be Brave Enough to “Wreck it”

When this painting was at the above stage I was unsure if I should call it done. I really felt like it would be fun to add some lightly falling snow, but at the same time I was afraid to ‘wreck it’. When you’ve come this far it is a little scary to start dripping paint over your painting.

Luckily for me I was taking a watercolour workshop and I asked my classmates if I should add snow or not. The response was 50-50, half said snow, half said no. So to break the tie I deferred to the expert, our workshop instructor Alex Fong. His response delighted me. He said “Of course! Everything needs a little snow. Just Go For It!” I’m sure glad I did since the snow really lightened up the dark areas without distracting from the focus and gave life and movement to the painting.

If you feel that your painting needs a little extra something, have fun and just go for it! When you are brave enough to “wreck it” you can sometimes luck out and get beautiful results.

Watercolour Winter Stream Step 6

I had a lot of fun painting this winter water scene. I hope you enjoyed seeing the steps I took to create it. Please reply below if you have any comments or questions. Thank you!

Artists For Japan

Friday, March 18th, 2011

The other day my studio mate opened a facebook group called Artists for Japan. She started the group in hopes of raising money to donate towards the Japan Earthquake and Tsunami disaster relief efforts of Canadian Red Cross.

Artists for Japan

To help out I am auctioning off this canvas to raise money for the Japan Earthquake and Tsunami efforts.

Sun Peaks Ski Resort Limited Edition 16/100

“Sun Peaks Ski Resort” is a signed and numbered limited edition #16/100 printed on Canvas. Unframed. Size: 14×18. You can either frame it or tape the 3/4″ edges with black tape to hang as is. The value is $270. Shipping is COD or you can pick it up in Kelowna. 100% of the winning bid will be donated to the Canadian Red Cross towards their Japan Earthquake/Asia-Pacific Tsunami efforts.

To place a bid, login to facebook, join the Artists for Japan facebook group and comment with your bid under my painting. My painting is here: Sun Peaks Ski Resort. Starting bid is $20.

It’s not just my painting that you can bid on. There are plenty of beautiful pieces to choose from including this original oil painting by Rod Charlesworth:

copyright Rod Charlesworth Fine Art

copyright Rod Charlesworth Fine Art

Artist: Rod Charlesworth
Title: Island Vista
Medium: oil on board
Size: 9×12
Original value: $950.00
Starting bid: $200.00

See the full selection of art for auction here.

PS You will need to login to facebook to see this group.

Thank you for your help!

Painting in the Park

Friday, July 16th, 2010

When I lived in Fernie, BC, my friends and I used to have painting parties together. Basically that just meant that we would get together and paint for fun. Last Friday when I was in Whistler, my friend Keya was visiting me from Fernie and we kept up our tradition by having a little painting party in the park. Here we are painting canvases by Alta Lake in Whistler, BC:

Kendra Smith and Keya White Painting in the Park

It is so fun to paint with a friend. I love it.

Here are the little paintings we did:

8x8 Acrylic Paintings by Kendra Smith and Keya White

On September 10th these paintings will be raffled off at a fundraiser for the Whistler Arts Council in support of the Whistler on the Lake Art Workshops program. You can see more of Keya White’s paintings at

Artist Heaven

Monday, July 12th, 2010

Last night at midnight I got home from a week of painting in Whistler, BC. I was buzzing the whole drive home. My 3 day workshop with David McEown was amazing. I LOVED it! The advanced workshop lived up to it’s name as we tackled a very complex studio piece of the Larch Trees and waterfalls near Lake O’Hara. It was great to learn how to approach the layers of the painting and keep the whites in the water.

On Friday my artist friend Keya White and I biked around Alta Lake and painted 8×8 canvases to donate to a fundraiser for the Whistler Arts Council. On September 10th they are going draw the raffle winners and someone will get to take home my painting and support the Whistler on the Lake Art Workshops at the same time.

On Saturday I took the gondola up to the top of Whistler Mountain. I spent the full day hiking and painting. The views were stunning. Here are the four en plein air paintings I did over the course of the day:

I paint on Thursdays

Thursday, June 10th, 2010

I’m so busy these days with client meetings and creating websites that I haven’t had much time for anything else. In order to keep myself inspired and in the studio, I dedicated Thursdays to be my painting day. This is what I painted today:

Studio Day

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

Today I painted two more paintings for my series of children in the snow: “Enjoying the Sun” and “Taking a Little Break”

Paintings En Route for Jasper and Whistler

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009
Whistler After Dusk

Whistler After Dusk, Whistler, BC. Watercolour painting by Kendra Smith. Available at Mountain Galleries.
I am so excited. I just sent the largest number of original paintings to Mountain Galleries that I have ever shipped at one time. I was so nervous to let anyone take my parcel. No one will insure art! (Now maybe if I had purchased the art they would insure it for me, but since I painted it, there is no such luck.) So here I am trying to find a company I trust to take 23 of my original watercolours to Jasper. I was going to send them by priority post but Canada Post uses Fed-Ex who contracts out their work. I didn’t want my paintings going through so many hands. It took me a while but I finally couriered them by ground which insures they stay in the same cage the whole trip.

This shipment was momentous for me. Firstly it is a huge honour to be an artist in Mountain Galleries along side amazing professional artists such as Alan Wylie, Jerry Heine, Gail Johnson, and the list goes on. (I’m in the same gallery as Robert Genn, Brian Atyeo, and one of my favourites, Jack Reid ~ who taught me how to paint snow in 2002!) As well, this was the first time that the gallery accepted every piece I showed them!

Some of the paintings will stay at the Jasper Originals gallery in the Jasper Park Lodge, which was the original gallery opened by artist and film maker Wendy Wacko.

Peaking Over at Mount Edith Cavell from Whistlers, Jasper, AB Mount Edith Cavell in Jasper Alberta. Watercolour painting by Kendra Smith. Available at Mountain Galleries.Others such as these Lake Louise paintings will be sent to the Banff location of Mountain Galleries in the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel:

Lake Louise Love

Lake Louise Love. Watercolour painting by Kendra Smith. Available at Mountain Galleries in Banff, Alberta.

Lake Louise Lakeside Path

Lake Louise Lakeside Path. Watercolour painting by Kendra Smith. Available at Mountain Galleries in Banff, Alberta
Eleven of the paintings are being delivered at the end of December to the Whistler gallery in the Fairmont Chateau Whistler by Wendy herself. This is the part I am most excited about.

In March I gave my notice for my teaching job so that I could paint full time. I had just recently been accepted into the Whistler gallery and with the Olympics less than a year a way I knew I would regret it if I spent my time marking papers rather than painting. I am so glad I made that choice.

Heading to Could Nine

Heading to Cloud Nine, Whistler, BC. Watercolour by Artist Kendra Smith. Available at Mountain Galleries in the Fairmont Chateau Whistler
Painting continuously has given me the chance to grow as an artist. When you paint in spurts it often seems like you are always starting at square one. This summer and fall I had a chance to get on a roll. It was a glorious feeling.

Whistler Paintings on my Easels

Sunday, November 8th, 2009

Lately I have been painting some full sheet watercolours of the mountains in Whistler. With the Olympics coming up this February, I want to make sure that Mountain Galleries is stocked up on winter paintings of the ski hill.

The first painting, “Whistler’s Backyard” is a view of the snowy hills surrounding the valley with a view of Blackcomb and Whistler Mountain ski runs in the background. “Harmony”, the painting on the right, is a run leading to Harmony Chairlift with Armchair Mountain, Spearhead and Blackcomb Peak in the background.

Street Scene Paintings of Cafes in Whistler

Friday, August 21st, 2009
La Bocca Cafe in Whistler Village
La Bocca Cafe in Whistler Village Painting
Painting in Progress of La Brasserie In Whistler
Painting La Brasserie Pub in Whistler
Finished painting of La Brasserie

Paintings from Trip to Whistler

Thursday, August 20th, 2009
Whistler Blackcomb Peak to Peak Gondola
Whistler Peak to Peak Gondola painting
Whistler Peak Express
Watercolour painting of Whistler Peak Express by Kendra Smith
Franz’s Chair Whistler Mountain
Painting of Franz's Chair at Whistler Mountain

Here are some of the results from my recent painting trip. I was invited by Mountain Galleries to be their artist in residence for a week in Whistler, BC. While there I took two trips up the gondola. One day was sunny and the next completely socked in, as you can see by the painting I did of the Peak to Peak gondola.

New Summer Paintings

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009
Kendra Smith painting of Sun PeaksKendra Smith daisies painting Kendra Smith canoe by lake painting

Here are three of the new original paintings I will be taking to Sun Peaks with me this weekend for the Wine and Culture Festival. After the Festival I will be leaving new artwork at Tree Line Studios in the village center.

New Whistler Art

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

“Symphony” 22×30 Original Watercolour
Available at Mountain Galleries

When I went to Jasper I took all of my new Whistler paintings with me. Mountain Galleries has three gallery locations in the Fairmont Hotels in Jasper, Banff and Whistler. The owner, Wendy Wacko, took seven out of my nine winter paintings to send to Mountain Galleries in the Chateau Whistler.

“Horstman T-Bar” 22×30 Original Watercolour
Available at Mountain Galleries

Here is a link to view the rest of my Whistler art.

Banff Paintings

Sunday, June 21st, 2009

June 10, 2009
I left Jasper on Monday afternoon to drive to Banff where I have been staying in staff accomodation at the Banff Springs Hotel as part of Mountain Galleries artist in residence program. It is beautiful here. Yesterday I hiked Johnston Canyon to take photos of the seven waterfalls. I also went to Lake Louise and Moraine Lake which was amazing. I got to Moraine Lake just after 8pm when the sun was about to set. The light on the mountain peaks was stunning. I was so lucky.

Early this morning I drove around the Banff Springs golf course by the river to take photos of the backside of Mount Rundle. Then I hiked Silverton Falls, took pictures of Castle Mountain, drove to Lake Louise, painted a picture of Victoria Glacier and walked around the lake, stopped at Castle Mountain on the way back to start another painting, and then tonight I walked along the marshes taking photos of Mount Rundle.

Neither of my paintings turned out the way I hoped today, but then again it is a bit overwhelming with all of Wendy’s advice floating around in my head and also intimidating seeing all of the awesome art in her gallery. The Mountain Galleries in the Banff Springs Hotel is so nice. I have to remind myself that many of those artists have been painting for over 50 years. I just have to relax. I am honoured to be here painting for the same gallery. I am so grateful for my creative lifestyle and to be able to do this already while I’m still young. I have a lot to learn and a lifetime ahead to do it in.

I have lots of good material to paint when I come home from my trip. I have taken well over 1400 photos! Definitely a lot of inspiration.

The Johnston Canyon Falls painting is one I did in my studio after my trip from photos I took on my hike. Here is a studio painting I did of the sunset at Moraine Lake:

“After Eight Moraine Lake”
11×15 original watercolour
Available at Mountain Galleries in the Banff Springs Hotel

Here is a link to view the rest of my Banff paintings.

Painting En Plein Air

Sunday, June 21st, 2009

Wendy Wacko, the owner of Mountain Galleries in Jasper, Banff and Whistler, is a firm believer in painting outdoors. She invited me to come to Jasper and Banff to paint for her galleries so that I could develop some paintings ‘en plein air’. In contrast to painting from a photograph, when you are in nature the colours are so much more vibrant, the shadows have more depth, the shapes and contours of the land are easier to decipher, and the light is ever changing. Wendy told me that not every painting you do en plein air will be a master piece, but you will develop more expression in your style and a better sense of colour and light.

I have painted only a handful of paintings en plein air before this trip. It has been so exhilerating to be outside painting the Rockies. It is so different from painting indoors. Your paint dries much faster so you need to use more water, which in turn disolves more pigment filling my paint strokes with whooshes of intense colour. The paint dries so quickly that the painting takes on a different texture than in a studio painting. It has more hard edges, spontaneous brush strokes, broad gestures of suggested shapes. There isn’t time to get wrapped up in little details when you are painting outdoors so the paintings are more spontaneous, fresh and loose.

One of the tricks is trying to get a massive mountain onto an 11×15 sheet of paper. Often I would set out to paint an entire ridge and end up with a painting of one peak! When I tried to paint Lake Louise I even ran out of room for the water, the most important part!!

The landscape in front of you is gigantic and sometimes it is difficult to wrap your mind around the shapes. You look up trying to make out a crack in the rocks, you look back at your paper and you wonder ‘where is it supposed to connect?, which ridge meets up with which?’

Painting en plein air in Jasper and Banff was a fabulous experience and I will definitely be painting ‘en plein air’ again in the future.

Painting in Jasper

Sunday, June 21st, 2009

June 5, 2009
I am soooo tired. It is after midnight and I am still at Wendy’s art studio where I have been painting as part of my week as artist in residence at Mountain Galleries in Jasper. I wasn’t going to stay late tonight but I couldn’t put my brush down. “Just one more painting”.

I am having so much fun.

This trip is so good for me because I am trying so many new things and releasing a lot of creative energy. It will be very refreshing to be in my art studio with so many new ideas floating around in my head.

Here is a painting I did from Wendy’s art studio tonight just as the sun was going down:

En Plein Air

Sunday, June 21st, 2009

June 3rd, 2009:

I am in Jasper right now painting up a storm. I was invited by Mountain Galleries to be their artist in residence for a week in Jasper.

It is very beautiful here. I’m enjoying myself a lot. Yesterday I went on an awesome hike at the top of Whistlers Mountain with a full 360degree view – it was incredible.

My ‘en plein air’ paintings are so different from my studio work. I usually paint snow scenes so these spring mountain scapes are full of new colours. Each one has something different I like about it. I can really see what Wendy, the owner of Mountain Galleries in Jasper, Whistler and Banff, meant about colour outdoors as opposed to photos. In my camera the same mountains look grey but in real life they are red and orange, gold, blue and brown… and grey too in spots. ;)

We haven’t had any one-on-one time yet which I’m looking forward to since she is also a successful artist.

Yesterday I took pictures all day from 9am to 10pm. Today I got up at 5:30am!

Here are two ‘en plein air’ paintings I did of the Pyramid Mountain at different times of day from different locations:

New Whistler Painting

Monday, February 16th, 2009

Here is my latest watercolour painting of Whistler Ski Hill:
(22×30 original painted on 300lb Arches watercolour paper)
This painting will soon be available at Mountain Galleries in the Fairmont Chateau Whistler. PS It sold.

My biggest watercolour painting

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2008

This is my first full sheet watercolour painting 22×30 inches.
Canadian artist Kendra Smith and her largest watercolour painting of Whistler Mountains. My biggest painting is of the mountain peaks in Whistler, BC.
KendraArt watercolour painting of Whistler Mountains by Canadian artist Kendra Smith
Below is another painting of Whistler mountains that I did this summer. It is a half sheet 15×22.
KendraArt watercolour painting of Whistler Mountains by Canadian artist Kendra Smith
I am really excited to be making the leap to painting larger paintings. It was my goal this summer to explore my art and to push myself out of my comfort zone. I am very happy with the results, and the best part is that I wasn’t at all uncomfortable. It was fun and I’m looking forward to painting more big watercolours.

Jersey Cream Kids

Monday, May 19th, 2008

Jersey Cream, watercolour painting of Whistler ski resort by artist Kendra Smith

Whistler on my easel

My next goal in my art career is to display my watercolour paintings in a Whistler art gallery. This summer I am going to be spending quality time in my studio painting pictures of Whistler and Blackcomb mountains and village. It is so great to be painting again. I didn’t have much time to paint the last three years since I moved to Kelowna to get a diploma in graphic and digital media design.

In the fall I hope to have a collection of original paintings to showcase.