Stacked rocks still life painting by Madison Woods

Stacked Rocks Still Life Painting- the Process

The Process Story of “Ozark Rocks and Leaf”

This painting started out plein air. The grandkids were visiting and wanted to go splash around at Felkins creek. While they played, I began painting these stacked rocks with a sycamore leaf.

When it was time to leave, I wasn’t finished yet, so I snapped some photos and packed it all up to finish later.

The painting as it stood when it was time to go back to the house.
The painting as it stood when it was time to go back to the house.

Time passed

It took me a little while to get back around to working on it. I’ve learned from experience that my rendition of an in-situ scene isn’t going to look like the real thing in the end, so this time I didn’t worry about it.

My goal was to make a painting that looked good to my eye, even if it didn’t have a lot of resemblance to the actual thing in the end. So my rocks are different, and the leaf is, too.

But, I didn’t know how to make the sand look like sand, or how to put all the many little rocks in the sand. And at this point, I didn’t the painting much. It sat on the easel untouched for a couple of weeks.

At this point I was stumped, and set the painting aside again. The stacked rocks didn't look the way I wanted, and I couldn't even imagine how to make the sand and small pebbles work.
At this point I was stumped, and set the painting aside again. The stacked rocks didn’t look the way I wanted, and I couldn’t even imagine how to make the sand and small pebbles work.

Try Again

I pulled it back out to take with me to the gallery on my work day. Since I like to paint between customers while I’m there, I decided to try working on it some more, to see if I could get to a point where I could at least feel it had promise.

Magic Happened!

My efforts paid off. The stacked rocks might finally work out. The sand drifts looked more like sand, and the pebbles looked like pebbles. Or close enough, anyway.

Whoo-hoo! Now I liked it. I wasn't finished yet, but I could tell it was going to work, finally.
Whoo-hoo! Now I liked it. I wasn’t finished yet, but I could tell it was going to work, finally.

So I worked on the leaf a little more.

Close up of a sycamore leaf painting

Delayed Again

I had some things come up that caused a delay, but this time when I pulled my stacked rocks out again, I really liked it. I finished the leaf and added a few more details to the rocks and sand, and called it done.

Still life of stacked rocks and leaf. Ozark Rocks and Leaf, in Ozark pigments. 9.75" x 7.75". Prints and original are available.
Ozark Rocks and Leaf, in Ozark pigments. 9.75″ x 7.75″. Prints and original are available.

Want a Stacked Rocks Print?

The original is for sale too. Email me about that if you’re interested. Unframed it is $250 and ships flat. Framed is $375. Prints are available through Fine Art America (linked below).

Photography Prints

Madison Woods is an author, artist, and Paleo Paint maker living
with her husband in northwest Arkansas far off the beaten path. She uses Ozark pigments to create her paintings.

To see her paintings click here.

Contact Info:
Email: [email protected]
Instagram: @wildozark
Facebook: @wildozark

Make your own watercolor paints with the new DIY Paleo Paints kit from Wild Ozark!

She Delivers in Spades

I went down to see what gifts the creek brought when the waters receded from my favorite little spot 💕 She always delivers in spades when she rages 😁

Gifts from the Creek- she delivers in spades after a good flood!
Look at all that color!

Why the rocks?

If you haven’t already been following me, you may wonder why on earth I am so excited over these rocks. Maybe in the back of your mind you wonder that anyway, lol.

I’m going to make paint from them!

And so when I say the creek delivered in spades, I am referring to all the varieties of colors in all of the small (and larger) stones that got washed and dropped in the recent rains.

Pigments from Rocks

That’s right. Once I grind these rocks into powders, the various colors are ‘pigments’.

I don’t grind them all together, I’ll grind the same color groups and mix them all together. Some of them I’ll grind individually, if the color of it is unusual. Like that black one in the lower right in the pic below.

 She delivers in spades. Rocks after the rains that I'll use for pigments.

What’s the point?

Once I get them ground up in to pigments, I make watercolor paints by adding a solution of gum Arabic to them. And then I paint with them! The paintings below are a few of my latest ones.

So this little creek of ours delivers in spades in many ways. The gift of rocks leads to pigments which then leads to paintings.

Here’s one of my posts from back when I first started making paints from rocks: https://www.wildozark.com/weight-in-gold/

Want to Try?

I’m going to start selling some DIY Paleo Paint Kits. It’ll include little bags of rocks sorted by color. They’ll be small enough so that you won’t have to work so hard to crush them as you would if they were larger. And enough pigment already crushed to make enough paint to fill a few half pans. So you don’t have to crush the rocks right away if you don’t want to.

Also included will be a few rocks of gum Arabic resin so you can make your solution, and a little honey to add to give it the right humectant properties.

The only thing missing will be the essential oil of cloves, which isn’t going to be a problem for such small quantities.

You’ll need to supply your own palette knife, sifter, and mixing plate. And you’ll need a mortar and pestle to grind up the rocks. If you really decide to get serious with it, you’ll want to invest in a small muller, but if you’re just experimenting to see what you think, you can do without it for now.

Want to be Notified?

When the kits are ready to ship, if you want to get notified, sign up on my list. This isn’t my regular newsletter list. It’s only to let you know the kits are available when they’re ready. Look for them some time in June or July. Cost will be around $25 for each color set.

Soon our creek delivers in spades for you too!

Madison Woods is an author, artist, and Paleo Paint maker living
with her husband in northwest Arkansas far off the beaten path. She uses Ozark pigments to create her paintings.

To see her paintings click here.

Contact Info:
Email: [email protected]
Instagram: @wildozark
Facebook: @wildozark

Brown paint from the hard rock.

Brown Earth Pigment for my Handmade Watercolor Palette

My son found a rock alongside the driveway, near the creek. He kept it to give me since he knows I’ve been smashing a lot of rocks lately. This one seemed like it would be a great rock to make some of my earth pigments and handmade watercolors. It was mostly black, with some brown.

I thought so too. It appeared to be black sandstone – and I need another source of black.

With some sense of excitement, I took out my hammer and pounding board (otherwise known as a chopping block to those who actually cut up things to cook).

That rock surprised me. It surprised me in a couple of ways. First, it wouldn’t break. I mean I pounded that rock so hard it broke the board beneath it.

So I took it outside. Finally I did manage to break off a small sliver. Considering how much effort it took to break even the tiniest piece of it off, doubts about making paint from it had begun to cloud my happy day.

Before I set to reducing the sliver to dust, I looked at it under the magnifying loop. Lots of little pockets of shiny, glassy, black were there. It looked like obsidian or glass. So I took some pictures of the rock and tested it to see if a magnet would attract to it. Nope.

One of the state geologists said it may be 'carbonated sandstone', which is typically very hard. Makes a nice brown paint, though.
One of the state geologists said it may be ‘carbonated sandstone’, which is typically very hard.

Just a really hard rock with interesting black glassy bits. Not to be deterred so easily, I put the sliver into my handy stainless steel mortar and used the hammer on the pestle to crack it some more.

It didn’t surprise me that it was hard to grind to a powder. In fact, I was only able to reduce a small portion of it to actual powder. The rest was far too grainy to use for paint.

But I took the powder I did get and made the little pile on my mulling board and put the media in it.

And that’s where the second surprise happened. That powder, which still felt very gritty to my fingers, mulled down to the smoothest paint ever.

And not only that, it made the brownest brown I’ve found yet. This part really excited me.

But not enough to make me try to grind any more of it. My wrists were sore from the first attempt.

I kept the rock and will see if I can make more brown later from it. This is one color I doubt I’ll ever sell, just because for one, I’m not sure where to get another rock like that. And two, because it’s just far too hard to grind.

However, the brown compliments my own personal set of paints quite nicely and I’ve used it in the pelican I’m painting now. It was the best color for the job and I’m glad I had it on hand. It probably gets the color from manganese.

Thanks, Garrison! Pick up any other rocks you might think I’ll like in in the future.

Brown paint from the hard rock.
I think I’ll call this one “Hard Rock Brown”.
Kestrel No. 3, featuring all handmade watercolor paints made from local stone and clay sources. Panic stage navigated.

The “Panic Stage” in a Work of Nature Art

There’s a new work in progress sitting on my easel. By the time I’m done with this post, it’ll probably be a finished work. It’s another kestrel, and I’ve reached a reliable stage in the process. I call it the ‘Panic Stage’.

update 5/2/19: It was finished in August 2018 and is the image at the top of this post.

My Process

Kestrel photo by Terry Stanfill. Used with permission.
Kestrel photo by Terry Stanfill. Used with permission.

The photo above, by Terry Stanfill, is the one that served as the model for my painting. In the end, it didn’t look exactly like it, but I think it’s close enough and the differences are not necessarily bad ones.

When I first start a painting, I start out with a sense of excitement. I can’t wait to see the finished image. But usually there’s a whole lotta grief and misery to get through before I reach that point.

What is the Panic Stage?

I imagine there’s a point like this in the process of any kind of creative act. It’s when all seems lost, like you just cannot do the thing you set out to do and it feels pointless to continue.

There is most certainly a panic stage with natural childbirth – at least there was in my own three experiences and also with the the birth of my grandchildren. Any act of creation, whether it’s visual art, hand-crafted, or written is like a symbolic giving of birth. In the real act, the panic stage occurs just before it’s time to start the first real push. It’s when the mother in labor wants to quit the natural way and wishes she’d opted for the pain-killing epidural. Because it hurts. And it’s hard. And there seems to be no realistic way to achieve the birthing without dying in the process. That’s the panic stage.

Of course, it’s not so dramatic when it comes to creative birthings, but some of the emotions are pretty close, ha.

And when it comes to my kestrel paintings, it seems I have to push through a point where I want to throw it away in every one. Thankfully, I have a lot of encouragement from friends and family to talk me down from the ledge when I hit that point. I just hope this sort of thing eases some as I get more experience.

Progression Pics Help to Push through Panic Stage

I take photos of the various stages of my work because it helps me to look at it with a different perspective. What I hope is that one day I’ll see the problems soon enough during the creation of the work that I can fix them early on and avoid the panic stage all together.

Once the background is applied and the light sketch drawn in, the eye is the first thing I have to paint. If I can't get the eye right (position, size, expression), none of the rest of it will matter. I'll avoid the panic stage altogether if I can't get this part right, ha.
Once the background is applied and the light sketch drawn in, the eye is the first thing I have to paint. If I can’t get the eye right (position, size, expression), none of the rest of it will matter and I’ll avoid the panic stage at the end altogether, ha. It at least has to be set up to a point where I know I can make it work.

Sometimes something is wrong and I can’t figure out what it is. In the photo above, I know the eye and the nose are going to need some work, but it’s there well enough that I also know I can fix the problems. So this doesn’t bother me. They are at least done to a point where I am confident that going forward won’t be a waste of time.

Seeing the photo on Instagram or Facebook lets me see it as if I am looking at it for the first time.

What Could Go Wrong?

Lots of things aren’t always evident at the start. Sometimes it’s not until I start working on a certain part that I realize the off-thing in another part has thrown off this part too. Often I can tell right away when I see it in a photo I’ve posted what the problem is. It’s when I can’t see what the problem is that the panic stage really starts to set in.

An angle might be off. A line might be curved where it should be straight. Both of these issues occurred in this particular painting, and they often happen when I am drawing or painting anything. The key is to be able to see it and make the necessary changes. And that’s where the progress pictures come in really handy to me as the creator.

It is still looking good to me at this point. I haven't seen the problem yet. I'm definitely not at the panic stage. I'd say I'm still in the euphoric stage, lol. No panic stage yet.
It is still looking good to me at this point. I haven’t seen the problem yet.

Helping Others, Helping Myself

I like sharing them publicly so that if anyone else is out there trying to create something, they will see the agony another artist goes through during the process and not be so afraid when they encounter their own sense of dread halfway through it.

But I also like getting the feedback and encouragement my friends offer while I’m in the middle of a creation. It motivates me to continue. It’s also good for marketing. People love to see what went into something they might be interested in buying. I know I do.

The Awkward Stage

Right now, kestrel #3 is at that awkward stage. The spot where nothing looks right and I question whether or not I should just wad the page up and throw it in the garbage. It’s not the Panic Stage still, because I haven’t tried to fix anything and failed yet. I just know something’s wrong.

It's the tail. The tail is slightly off in the angle, making all of the other lines wrong on it when I try to add the feathers. Panic stage is starting to set in.
It’s the tail. The tail is slightly off in the angle, making all of the other lines wrong on it when I try to add the feathers.

Found the Problem

It’s the angle of the tail. So I erased the tail and started over on it. Three times! Finally, the tail looks like it should and I am happy and can move on. Panic stage eased somewhat.

He's ruffled in the wind, but there's something else wrong. I'm at the panic stage of this creation.
He’s ruffled in the wind, but there’s something else wrong.

But now I can see that there is a line issue with the wing tips. It needs to be straight, not curved. And I can fix this now that I recognize the problem. Until I saw the picture in another way, on the progress pic I posted, I didn’t see the problem but I had been fighting a disturbing sense that something was not right.

More Problems

Once the wings were fixed, I noticed the barring on the back was all wrong.The lines were traveling the wrong angles.

I’d also gotten too heavy handed with the black, and there was too much black. Everywhere. The average person might not have noticed the misguided bars or the fact that I used too much black, but if someone really loves kestrels, this is something they would have noticed. So I picked up all the color from the upper back. Then I had to pick up the color from the middle wing. And I had to remove some of the black around his eye.

Then I had to replace some of the black that made up his eye, lol. I was really entrenched in panic stage by this point, let me tell you.

When I finally got it all repainted, it was much better and worth all the effort.

Pushing Through

I’m past the panic stage now, but there are still issues to fix going forward. I know what I need to do, though, and that makes all the difference in the world.

When have you ever experienced this sort of dismay? When you hit a panic stage do you quit, or do you push through? How long does it take to overcome the feeling that you’ve just wasted your time and resources to get to that point? Thankfully, this phase is usually short-lived for me if I am able to keep working and I don’t quit.

Whew! Finished.

I’m quite pleased with it now that all the grief is over. I’m also glad I didn’t quit when the work of it got tough. Soon this little kestrel will be on her way to a new home on the west coast. Here’s the photo I used as a model.

Kestrel photo by Terry Stanfill. Used with permission.
Kestrel photo by Terry Stanfill. Used with permission.

Like seeing my process?

Here’s another of my other posts with progression photos. I’ll try to begin adding a progression post with every painting or work I do going forward.

Green Dragon (prismacolor pencil)