I felt fortunate being commissioned to paint Heceta Head, a lighthouse I've visited many times, painted several times, and would visit once again this past July. My customer had only one unique request, he wanted the Cape Creek Bridge to be prominent in the background. That requirement added some challenge since, without a drone, there is no clear simultaneous view of both the lighthouse and the bridge. Consequently, I climbed beyond the limits of the small access trail above the lighthouse, hung onto some cliffside shrubs with my left hand and snapped reference photos with my right. With the customer's consent, I enlarged the bridge slightly and illuminated the scene with an evening sunset enabling both the lighthouse and bridge to be featured.
Painting Tip … Stretch and Press
Each painting above is on a half-sheet of Arches, Bright White, Cold Press, 140-lb watercolor paper. Because I begin most paintings with large wet-in-wet washes for both the sky and sea, it is essential the paper remain flat to prevent the "pooling" of pigments. For that reason, I pre-stretch the paper using the following steps:
- Soak the paper in cold water for 10 minutes.
- Place the soaked wet paper on a thick (1/2-inch minimum), white Gator Board.
- Staple the paper edges to the Gator Board with short (e.g. 1/4 inch) staples spaced two-inches apart around the paper perimeter.
- Let the Gator Board and paper sit flat until dry.
- Cover the perimeter edges and staples with strips of masking tape. This forms a "picture frame" of tape which prevents watercolor washes from running back under exposed edges creating unwanted blooms. Note: Use neutral-color tape rather than blue which can bias your selection of colors for the composition.
- Begin painting
Upon completion of a painting, I remove the tape and staples. Often the painting has residual rolls or waves that I wish to flatten before framing. For those who did not pre-stretch and may have moderate-to-severe ripples in their finished painting, this next process works equally well. Here are the steps I call the "press."
- Plug in an iron filled with distilled water, and set it to "steam or cotton."
- Prepare a rigid flat surface such as a board or tabletop, to iron on. The "board" should be covered with a protective white barrier, preferably acid-free. I've used the backside of old mat boards, watercolor paper, and not-so-acid-free paper towels.
- Lightly and evenly spray/mist the back of the painting with distilled water.
- Place the moistened painting face down on the flat surface.
- Evenly hover the steaming iron an inch or two over the backside of the painting for about a minute. The paper will warm, soften, and relax.
- Begin ironing the backside of the paper using long continuous strokes.
- Do not over-iron or burn. When the surface appears uniformly flat, STOP.
The painting is now ready for framing. By the way, I have successfully used the "press" technique on un-stretched 300-lb paper and watercolor board, both of which distorted after heavy wet-in-wet washes.