Sunday, December 2, 2012

Painting with Watercolors: Going with the Flow

I wanted to write about technique, today, which is a bit of a departure for me. As a completely self-taught artist, I sometimes feel self-conscious discussing formal artistic concepts like technique. I have never heard these topics presented in an art class, so I've learned everything I know on the fly, which doesn't necessarily translate beautifully into prose. But there are some methods that have added a lot to my bag of tricks, so I wanted to share them, and some of the things they allow an artist (formally trained or otherwise) to do.

This discussion is about painting with watercolors, and how the paint behaves on paper when combined with water. I'll use some landscape paintings of mine to illustrate the ideas of "wet-in-dry" and "wet-in-wet," and what they do for an artist.

The terms "wet-in-dry" and "wet-in-wet" are delightfully self-explanatory, which is useful to an art school outsider like me. "Wet-in-dry" refers to applying wet paint to a dry surface. When painting "wet-in-wet," the surface is (you guessed it!) wet. Both methods can be used in all kinds of painting, but they have pros and cons for any medium, so they may be more or less practical for a particular one. Watercolors, however, have lots of room for both techniques, and depending on the desired effect, the artist may choose either or both for a given painting.

When painting wet-in-dry with watercolor, the wet paint hits the dry paper and the paper absorbs the water from the paint quickly, so there is minimal flow of the pigment. This makes wet-in-dry great for doing detailed work, or work that requires a firm edge. The tree in the example below was painted with a wet-in-dry technique:

watercolor tree painting, gnarled tree art, twisted tree painting, leafless tree, bare tree, gnarled winter tree, tree watercolor, old tree watercolor, dead tree painting
In addition to allowing hard edges and a level of detail that would not be possible on wet paper, wet-in-dry technique also allows effects like "edge darkening," in which pigment flows away from the center of a brushstroke and darkens the outer edge, as seen here:

When painting wet-in-wet, wet paint is applied to wet paper. The wet paper allows the paint to flow across the surface, which is great for doing washes (covering a large area with color) and also offers possibilities such as the smooth blending of one area of color into another, or into the white of the paper. I particularly like this technique for adding softness to sky and water in landscapes, and creating misty backgrounds. Here is an example of clouds painted wet-in-wet:

Both of these techniques have their uses in watercolor, and each in turn offers a whole range of effects that cannot be achieved with the other. I admit that until recently, my work was heavily weighted toward wet-in-dry; many of my paintings have a great deal of detail (which demands a dry surface), and I found it disconcerting to have the paint floating all over the place on wet paper. It was only after I accepted that allowing the paint to flow more freely could give me the soft effects that I often desired, that I embraced this very important technique. I have discovered through this learning process that in watercolor, controlling and directing the flow of water is just as important as applying the paint properly. My art is better for it, and the experience has given me a new appreciation for the value of stepping outside my artistic comfort zone.

The painting below utilizes both wet-in-wet and wet-in-dry techniques, and allows us to see how harmonious they can truly be.

watercolor lake painting, watercolor landscape painting, watercolor art, watercolor fine art, misty lake painting, misty morning painting, watercolor nature art,
"Ospreys at Dawn" - Watercolor on Paper - © Anna Bronwyn Foley, 2012

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Happy Birthday to A. B. Foley Artworks!

This month marks the 1 year anniversary of A. B. Foley Artworks on Etsy! It has been a wonderful first year, and I find it fitting that this anniversary comes at the time of year when we traditionally give thanks. I am so very thankful to all of my friends, family, collectors, fans and followers for your kindness and support. It is a joy for me to share a little bit of nature's beauty through my artwork, and the past year has taught me so much and given me so many reasons for gratitude!

I am celebrating this milestone, and expressing my appreciation, by offering a special promotion to my fans and followers: Enjoy 10% off your order from my Etsy shop through December 31, with the coupon code: CELEBRATE10
Warmest wishes, and a very happy Thanksgiving to all!
cedar waxwing illustration, bird painting, bird illustration, natural history illustration, nature painting, bird on branch, bird in tree, perching bird, bird art
"Cedar Waxwing" - Gouache on Paper - © Anna Bronwyn Foley, 2012

Saturday, October 27, 2012

From the "Maybe Someday" File

Although I'm an indifferent photographer at best, I have a habit of snapping photos of especially interesting or scenic moments from nature whenever I can. Some of them have made their way into paintings, many have not.

Today, I wanted to share some of the photos I've taken that haven't made it into my paintings, yet.
...Maybe someday...

 © Anna Bronwyn Foley, 2010

 © Anna Bronwyn Foley, 2012

 © Anna Bronwyn Foley, 2012

 © Anna Bronwyn Foley, 2010

 © Anna Bronwyn Foley, 2012
 © Anna Bronwyn Foley, 2012

 © Anna Bronwyn Foley, 2012


  I hope these pictures brighten your day - or even help you find some inspiration of your own!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Branching Out: What I Have Learned from Merchandising

Recently, I joined both Fine Art America and Zazzle, and between them I have approximately 6 bazillion items featuring my artwork now available for print-on-demand. That is a prospect that is both very exciting and a bit intimidating. Since I'm so new to the print-on-demand world, I've had to learn a lot in a short span of time. I know I still have lots (and lots, and lots) more to learn, but here's what I've discovered so far:

1) Image quality is king.
I am neither a photographer, nor a graphic designer. I am a painter. But that doesn't matter if my business is conducted online. In the digital world, my artwork is only as good as the image I post. That's doubly true when it comes to producing prints. An image with a little noise or imperfect focus might be good enough for some sites, but for printing, it's useless. So I've had a lot to learn about photographing and editing my images. Sometimes, that part is harder than painting them in the first place.

2) I'm happy to leave the work of printing to others.
For as many challenges as I've encountered preparing images for printing on demand, I can only imagine how many more would be involved if I were doing the printing. From color matching, to material needs, to equipment maintenance, it is definitely the sort of thing that I am very grateful to have out of my hands - at least for the time being.

3) Some paintings should not be printed on some products.
Zazzle offers a truly humongous selection of products, and - in theory at least - I could print my artwork on any of them. In practice, I've had to learn to be a bit selective. Vertically oriented artwork doesn't look so great on a wristlet purse that's meant to be held horizontally. A praying mantis painting just might not be an ideal choice for a baby pacifier. In learning this lesson, I've left some very odd products on the cutting room floor!

4) It takes a village.
The amount of advice, encouragement, mentoring and promotional help I've found in these online communities has been tremendous. The sense of community alone is important, but without the knowledge and assistance of my fellow members, I would be so much more clueless and lost in these new worlds. Learning each new platform is like navigating a labyrinth - and that's not something you want to go alone.

5) Balance is key.
Finding time to manage my new print-on-demand presence, while still creating new original paintings and handling all the other day to day needs of my business (let alone being the stay at home mom of a one-year-old), has been a challenging juggling act. I am working to find a balance that allows me to commit as much time as possible to each facet of my home and business, but that is definitely a work in progress - hence why it has been over a month since my last blog update. I'm sure I will hit my stride eventually - for now, I'm running full tilt and having a blast!

More soon - and some pretty pictures next time, I promise!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Wading into the World of Prints

Up to now, I have offered only original paintings for sale, but I am very excited to announce that I have joined Fine Art America, and now offer prints and greeting cards of selected paintings through their print on demand service! Fine Art America is a wonderful site, with loads of amazing artwork available, so you should definitely check it out.

For collectors, it's a great way to shop for fantastic pieces of art from home. For me, it's a chance to offer high quality prints without having to take on the burden of producing the prints myself, thus allowing me to commit more time and energy to painting. I call that a win-win!

Come and visit my galleries here:

You can also shop from Fine Art America directly from my Facebook page:

"Calm Sea Under Fair Skies" - Acrylic on Canvas - © Anna Bronwyn Foley, 2012

Monday, August 13, 2012

Coming Home to Autumn

The summers are long here in North Carolina. It's the price we pay for being able to let our snow shovels sit, untouched, in the garage most of the winter. And while I'm grateful for those mild winters, the summer does wear on a bit. By about July I'm tired of the heat and humidity, and begin to long for autumn.

Real autumn.

Autumn with frosty mornings, and a bite in the air that lasts well past noontime. Autumn with crisp, brown grass, vivid foliage, and sky so blue it almost hurts your eyes.
Autumn in New England.

On a trip to my old stomping grounds in Maine, this July, I snapped some photos of the blueberry fields that flank the rural roads near my childhood home:

maine landscape, maine blueberry field photograph, blueberry barren, maine photograph
© Anna Bronwyn Foley, 2012

They're pretty in midsummer, but I was thinking, as I held the camera up to the car window, of the brilliant crimson color that would blanket the fields in a few months' time. Of cold nights and cool mornings. Of the smell of cinnamon and nutmeg, and the fresh flavor of home-grown butternut squash. I was in a weird little time warp - looking forward a few months and backward many years, to the ridiculously archetypal autumn days of my youth.

The feeling didn't go away, when we came home from our trip. It was in the nineties outdoors, but my mind was fixed firmly in a fall day in Maine. And it looked like this:

maine landscape painting, maine landscape art, new england landscape painting, autumn nature art, autumn blueberry field, red blueberry barrens, new england art, maine nature art
"Blueberry Barrens in Autumn" - Acrylic on Canvas - © Anna Bronwyn Foley, 2012

A blueberry field in fall is a pretty picture. To me, though, it is much more than that. It is love, peace, sanctuary, and belonging.

It is home.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Inspiration Hiding in Plain Sight

This post is about inspiration, a subject that's been much on my mind over the past week - because of its lack. Just as writers sometimes find themselves crippled by writer's block, artists also suffer moments (or days, or weeks, or more) of sheer, uninspired frustration.

That has been the case for me, lately, and the past week has offered some challenges to my creativity. My thoughts are with a dear friend who is fighting a serious medical condition, and a worried mental state is not particularly conducive to creating pretty nature pictures. I love painting, and I generally find the world to be chock full of inspiration, so I know things aren't going well when I find I have to wrack my brain to come up with ideas.

I finished a painting this week and then sat there for awhile lost, thinking, "Okay, that's done. Now, what in the world do I paint next?" And I had no idea. Not a clue. I couldn't think of anything I particularly wanted to paint, any species that needed illustrating or scene that needed imagining.

So I blinked back tears and painted a landscape of rolling hills and distant mountains as a gift for my sick friend, to give him something pretty to look at in his hospital room.

And when it was done, once again, I had nothing to paint.

I started an illustration of a butterfly. It came out badly - the markings on the wings were wrong and impossibly ugly. It was evening, I was tired. My eyes were sore, my neck was stiff. In frustration I stood up from my work table and announced that I was going out for a walk.

I strode through the neighborhood quickly, my only purpose to blow off steam. I wasn't looking for inspiration, or enlightenment, or even a pretty sight to put on paper or canvas. I just wanted to breathe fresh air and get the heck out of my studio. It was a beautiful summer evening - comfortable, quiet; dry and clear with a lovely cool breeze. I walked for half an hour, and as I was returning (a bit reluctantly) to the house, I happened to look up.

I might as well have seen the lightbulb light over my head. What I saw instead was the moon. It was a little after sunset. The sky was soft and lavender, and the moon was shining brilliantly just above the treetops. It was beautiful. Serene. Comforting.  I stood in our driveway looking at the sky. And I knew what to paint next.

"Full Moon on a Summer Evening" - Acrylic on Canvas - © Anna Bronwyn Foley, 2012

~For Jay, with healing thoughts. ~

Monday, June 11, 2012

Nature Speaks III: Illustrations (or: Passionate Objectivity)

My last post was all about creating abstract art from nature, and how abstracts can convey emotions inspired by the natural world. Today, I'll address the same idea, but focusing on the genre of natural history illustration.

"Great Blue Heron Taking Off" - Gouache on Paper - © Anna Bronwyn Foley, 2012

Of the types of art I create, natural history illustration is - at least on its surface - the most detatched and unemotional, so it may seem odd at first to devote a post here to the idea of emotion in these illustrations. But in fact there is a definite emotive component to these paintings, however subtle it may be. Take, for example, the painting above. It illustrates a species, the Great Blue Heron, and is suitably detailed to serve as a guide for identification - a pretty objective start. But for me, the way this bird is depicted is decidedly expressive. The sight of a large, long-necked, leggy bird flapping himself up off the ground always strikes me as a small miracle, so it was with a sense of wonder that I created this painting. He turned out to have a determined look in the pitch of his head and the angle of his wings, which seemed particularly appropriate!

"Eastern Indigo Snake" - Gouache on Paper - © Anna Bronwyn Foley, 2012
This painting of an Eastern Indigo Snake, on the other hand, displays much less of a sense of exertion. The snake is coiled gently (I despise the myth of the vicious, bloodthirsty snake, so I would not have this one poised to strike), and his head is raised in an attitude of knowing observation. Snakes are patient, powerful and generally sensible. I would say this one conveys those qualities in a way that we (as artist and viewer) can empathize.

I love composing an illustration, and working out how best to illustrate not just the visible adaptations of the species, but also capturing its behaviors and attitudes, so the painting allows us to truly connect with the subject. The image below:

"White-breasted Nuthatch" - Gouache on Paper - © Anna Bronwyn Foley, 2012
... is a typical enough one, for those who have seen nuthatches hopping about in trees. They regularly perch upside-down, which is an interesting quirk on its own. For me, though, this instinctive behavior is inspiring. Seeing a little bird naturally crane his neck to look up at the world, when other birds look down on it, reminds me to keep a fresh perspective, and to always try to see things from different angles. That's a great lesson for an artist, as it is for anyone, and like so many life lessons, it's one easily taken from nature.

Natural history illustrations may not be the most obvious vehicle for sharing sentiment, but they would be vacant facsimiles without it. I take a great deal of joy in rendering a detailed, accurate image that also conveys an emotional experience to the viewer. It's not always an easy task, but it is always rewarding!

Thank you for reading along in this series. I hope it gives you a feel (pun intended) for the emotional component of each piece of art I create, whichever genre it may be: Landscape, Abstract, or Illustration.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Nature Speaks II: Abstracts (or: Life in Lines and Colors)

Last week, I discussed the emotional component involved in creating my landscape paintings. This week, I'd like to explore the same topic, as it relates to abstracts.

"Foxglove Bouquet" - Watercolor on Paper - © Anna Bronwyn Foley, 2012

Abstract paintings, by their very nature, tend to be powerful expressions of emotion; when an artist is not constrained by a need to render an image exactly, he or she may have more freedom to convey the feeling of an image (or to simply convey feeling, even without an obvious image). In the painting above, that meant capturing the elegant form of a bunch of foxglove flowers, and celebrating their reaching shape, which speaks to me of quiet optimism. Simplifying the flowers into a collection of circular spots allows their form as a whole to stand out, and the pink and lavender hues keep the overall feeling of this piece calm and gentle.

I revisited the flower garden in this piece, but in a much different frame of mind:

"Trio of Black Tulips" - Watercolor on Paper - © Anna Bronwyn Foley, 2012

Tulips are such a ubiquitous springtime sight, their soft and cheery appearance is a bit of a delightful cliché. I decided to provide a contrast to that stubbornly sunshiny quality by rendering this bunch of tulips in black. This gives the painting a much darker mood than the standard springtime tulip painting, but the simple lines allow this piece to be quietly somber, and not harsh or grating.

"Orchid in Pink and Grey" - Watercolor on Paper - © Anna Bronwyn Foley, 2012

The painting above allowed another journey into a monochromatic environment; this time, to place a single pink blossom within a softly sober grey orchid plant. The sense here is of individuality and hope. The idea that one can stand out in a crowd - even without trying - is a powerful message, and I enjoyed creating a piece that could say so in a graceful and eloquent way.

Abstract paintings are a natural opportunity to create emotive art, and I enjoy that this style of painting allows me to focus on the feeling of an image, rather than its literal representation. It never ceases to amaze me that the full gamut of emotion - joyful, gloomy and everything in between - can be conveyed with a few well placed brush strokes and a careful choice of color. And best of all: It's fun!

Next time: Natural History Illustrations

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Nature Speaks I: Landscapes (or: Feeling Small in the Big World)

This entry will be the first in a three-part series that introduces my body of work and gives you a little peek into my creative process, by sharing how emotions drawn from the natural world inspire my artwork. I categorize my paintings into three distinct series of works: Landscapes, Nature Abstracts, and Natural History Illustrations. I enjoy the freedom of working with different media and exploring different styles and subjects. Today, let's start with Landscapes.

"Lake Under the Morning Moon" - Acrylic on Canvas - © Anna Bronwyn Foley, 2012

The painting above was inspired by a walk in my neighborhood one morning this spring, when it happened that a gibbous moon was out overhead. There is no lake in my neighborhood, nor mountains, and although there are occasionally geese, they are rarely as picturesque (or quiet) as the ones I created here. The moon and the color of the sky put me in a mood that allowed this image to form in my mind's eye. When painting landscapes, I work from imagination and memory, rather than photographic reference. That gives me a sense of freedom: rather than having to focus on capturing minute details in my landscapes, I give my imagination license to take over.

My imagination was in a spookier, more mysterious place when I hatched the idea for this piece:

"Young Tree in an Old Forest" - Acrylic on Canvas - © Anna Bronwyn Foley, 2012

Again, the painting is rendered as a fantasy interpretation, not an illustration of any place I've seen in real life. But nothing sets my imagination going like a foggy morning. Fog is something like the dark of night that way; it hides the real world from sight, so the mind can conjure up all sorts of things that might never have been thought of in clear daylight. As a child, that meant I had a dreadful fear of the dark. Now, the same phenomenon makes fog and darkness wonderful playgrounds for my mind, allowing me to invent places I've never seen... Though, if I'm being honest, I am still a little scared of the dark...
Speaking of scary:

"Stormy Sea" - Acrylic on Canvas - © Anna Bronwyn Foley, 2012

Nature's power to crush us like squishy little bugs is awe-inspiring - not to mention frightening - and I think the sea exhibits that power as no place on dry land can. The image of an environment being in wild motion in every direction makes me shiver, but there's something exhilarating about that feeling (especially for those of us fortunate enough to have a safe, dry vantage point).
Landscapes and seascapes have the unique ability to make us feel a sense of our place in the world, while also taking us out of it, and making us spectators to nature. And although I'm always aware that I'm not really inside the world I'm painting - be it tranquil, mysterious, or violent - I love the sense of connecting on an emotional level with a piece of art, and using that work to communicate a feeling that I could never quite describe in words (this blog effort notwithstanding). A picture is, after all, worth a thousand words, and sometimes, a whole lot more.

Next time: Abstracts

Thursday, May 3, 2012


Having spent quite some time considering what would make a good opening post for this blog, I've finally arrived at the painfully obvious conclusion that my introductory post should be just that: An introduction. Chances are, you haven't met me. You may never have seen my work before, or you may have seen it but know nothing about how and why it came to be. So today I'm going to take a deep breath and dive into this whole blogging thing, starting with an introduction.

Hi! My name's Anna Bronwyn Foley. Most people call me Bronwyn. Nice to meet you!

For a fleeting, lackadaisical moment, I was tempted to close there. But I guess I should press on, and give you something to read that's a little less flippant, and a bit more meaty. I'll start with my own history, to let you know who I am, how I came to be an artist, and the particular kind of artist I am.

I was born and raised in the part of Maine that Mainers refer to as Downeast, which isn't very down, but is very east. It is a part of the state that has long served as logging country, blueberry barrens, and not a whole lot else. That is not to say that I don't feel fondly toward the little corner of wilderness where I grew up. On the contrary; I loved it dearly, and still do. My parents still live there, tucked away in a remote swath of swampy woodland in the stone house they built with their own hands, and in which they raised four daughters.
Growing up, there wasn't a whole lot to do - at least not socially. There was a wonderland of nature and wildlife all around us, though, so my sisters and I spent a great deal of time outdoors, playing in ponds and streams and woods, getting filthy with mud in springtime, frozen in the snow in winter, and bitten to shreds by mosquitoes and black flies in summer... Autumn, for it's part, was just a season of pure, picturesque, New England loveliness (though it was deer season, so we were cautious about going too far into the woods for fear of hunters with poor aim).

"Pussywillows on a Rainy Day"
Gouache on Watercolor Paper
© Anna Bronwyn Foley, 2012

In between sojourns out into the wilds of my own backyard, I spent countless hours sketching and drawing.I had begun drawing pictures as soon as I could hold a crayon, and though other interests came and went, this one never waned, nor did my enjoyment of nature.

Knowing that I have been an outdoorsy sort since earliest childhood, the fact that my artwork is inspired by a passion for nature and the living world should come as no surprise. But we'll get to that. If you're still reading (and since I'm bothering to write this, I sure hope you are), let's move along through the biographical bit, so I can go on to tell you about my paintings.
I went to college in what seemed the balmy South, at the time: Connecticut, where I earned a bachelor's degree in Biology. Following college, I worked for several years in wildlife husbandry at a small natural history museum in Massachusetts. That position gave me the opportunity to see lots of wildlife in a very close, personal way, which no doubt informed a lot of the natural history illustrations I do now. After all, you can only glean so much from photographs - there's no substitute for having seen the real thing up close.

From there, I relocated to North Carolina. A job offer for my husband was what brought us here, but the prospect of a whole new cache of wild species and natural places to explore was particularly exciting for me. There are lizards here! Wild lizards! That was one of many things I found remarkable about my new (significantly warmer) habitat.
Since migrating south, I worked as a veterinary assistant until the fall of 2011, when our daughter was born and I became a stay-at-home mom. With the precious time available to the mother of an infant who has sometimes been an unenthusiastic nap-taker, I have thrown myself into painting as my primary non-diaper-related form of employment (and, perhaps, an inexpensive kind of therapy).

Still reading? Excellent! Let me tell you about my artwork, then, since that's probably what you're here for.

I've painted with watercolors since I was a child, and more recently began working with gouache and acrylics as well. As you know by now, I love natural themes, and they figure prominently in my artwork. A large part of my body of work consists of natural history illustrations, such as this one:

"Zebra Swallowtail Butterfly" - Gouache on Watercolor Paper - © Anna Bronwyn Foley, 2012

And this one:

"Red-winged Blackbird" - Gouache on Watercolor Paper - © Anna Bronwyn Foley, 2012

I love the precision and detail involved in producing an illustration of this kind, and never begrudge the time spent getting it to look "just right," but sometimes I find it very refreshing to take a step away from detail, and capture just the impression of a thing, hence my series of abstracts - all still images from nature, but much less constrained ones. For example:
"Blue Tulip Bouquet" - Watercolor on Watercolor Paper - © Anna Bronwyn Foley, 2012

In a similar vein (that of taking a step back, away from minute detail) I have more recently begun painting landscapes in acrylics, as well, such as this:

"Young Tree in an Old Forest" - Acrylic on Canvas - © Anna Bronwyn Foley, 2012

Since December 2011, I have been displaying my artwork online through Etsy at, and I am so excited to continue adding more pieces to that gallery, and sharing future posts on this blog with updates, stories, and news. Thank you for taking the time to get to know me through reading along here, and I look forward to sharing more with you soon!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Welcome! This blog represents a new project for me, and a new foray into the world of technology, a world with which I am more than a little uneasy. So, if you've come across this blog in the early going, while I'm still getting my wits about me, please be patient. Future posts will be focused on my artwork (wildlife and botanical illustrations, abstracts, and landscapes), my artistic process, the natural world (which inspires all of my artwork), and whatever other goodies I feel the need to include. In the meantime, please stop by my online gallery at And follow me on Facebook and Twitter for the latest from my shop, including listing updates, announcements, and the occasional coupon code:!/pages/A-B-Foley-Artworks/134403156676244 Thanks for stopping by!