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Friday, June 7, 2013

Dawn's Lovely Wabi-Sabi Piece

Reader Dawn McLaughlin sent a wonderful photo of a project she did from my book. She asked for suggestions to improve it, as she feels the background is too dark. Actually, I like her piece very much as it is! But, the great thing about this kind of work is that you can keep adding layers until your piece sings to you.

One thing I've tried with some of my pieces is to play with the image in a photo editing program. I've done that with Dawn's image just to show how you can do this to experiment. I'm not very savvy about many things these programs can do. In these examples I've just selected certain areas and played with the color--fairly crudely, but it gives an idea.

Here's Dawn's original image:

Vessel Askew
As I said, I like this piece very much. The background is gorgeous and rich and the vessel has convincing roundness (plus a sweet personality.) Dawn wants more "pop" so here are a few experiments I did with the photo editing program.

 Above I just increased the saturation which may be more like what Dawn's piece looks like in "real life." You could do this for real by adding stronger layers of re-inker glaze--more re-inker to less glaze medium in your paint.

With a brighter green (above.)

Now, here's an interesting version (above.) This one pops more with the lighter central image. I did this by selecting and inverting the image and painting a light highlight in the middle, as with the inversion, the highlight turned out dark.

In all these experiments I concentrated on changing the focal point image rather than the background, due to my limited photo editing tools. In real life, you could lighten the background by drybrushing white or buff paint over it. Or you could gesso it over and start again with more glaze and a lighter re-inker. 

I think Dawn's original piece is the most "wabi-sabi" because of it's subtlety. My style of wabi-sabi art tends to be subtle, so sometimes the "pop" effect is also. My suggestion is always to make lots and lots of pieces and don't worry about perfection. You'll gain skill as you go and you can always go back and change things. Sometimes when I let a piece sit I find I like it better as it is when I return to it. If not, there's always "The Cover-Up" technique, found in the book.

You can see more of Dawn's excellent work on her website. I love the rich colors she uses! Thanks, Dawn, for sharing your work and your process!


  1. Thanks so much, Serena. Interesting variations. As you say, it can take some time to evaluate a piece. I'll let this hang around for a while and then reassess it.

  2. Hi Serena,

    How exactly is cold wax used to seal paintings? The photo in your book shows applying it with a paper towel or rag. Is it rubbed into the surface, or applied as a layer? If applied as a layer, how thickly?



  3. Hi Dawn,

    I have used cold wax as a sealer both ways. You can apply a thin layer, wait until it is fully dry, and then buff the piece. You can apply with a brush, rubbing off any extra with a paper towel. If I am impatient, I sometimes just rub in a thin layer and then buff again when it's dry. The first way is probably the proper way:)