The Artist’s Palette, A window of Truth.

This is a close up of my first palette, which I have not used in about 15 years.

Most commonly, we learn about an artist through the paintings they have created and the journals they leave behind for us. Rarely do we get a look at the palette of an artist. The palette seems to be a very private and intimate thing that artist’s typically do not share with us!

I suppose one reason could be because by looking at the palette of an artist, we get to see many things that are real about the painter. The palette tells things about an aritst that are emensly personal.

It offers a rare and honest look at the person behind the illusions they create. The artist’s palette functions as a secondary heart of the creator, and is often just as important to telling the world who they are as their journals and works.

In my home I have two Academy palettes. One was my mother’s and one is mine.

My mothers palette is the one on the left, mine is the one onthe right.

I received my palette because I won a vote. My mother had a wonderful group of artist friends who she would paint with on a weekly basis. Their little group had a member who fell ill and eventually passed away called Spot. The ladies in my mother’s painting circle were given the task of determining what to do with his supplies. I was chosen!

The palette instantly became the most important item that I had ever owned and it still is one of them today. I think there was a part of me that realized the validity of the gift that I was being given. It was not just a hand-me-down palette, it was a legacy. There was a weight to it.

I had no idea that in another seven or eight years, I would be gathering up my mother’s art supplies, cleaning out her studio and making some of these very same decisions for her belongings. Isn’t it amazing how the world moves in ripples and circles?

The palette on the left belonged to my mother, who was a naturalist, landscape painter who favored oil paints and had a traditional flair. She was a brilliantly creative soul who passed away at age 47. The palette on the right was mine. I say “was” because it has not been in use for the better part of the last 15 years now. So, as this blog continues, the palette on the left is that of a 47 year old woman and the one on the right is that of me, a 25 year old at the time.



The artist’s palette reveals truths about the artist’s inner nature:

So with this filter you will see that the palette on the left appears to belong to someone who appears to be controlled and who could be considered mature. You might imagine this painter to paint very seriously and deliberately. Each color rests in it’s own place. The same amount of space for each color. The tidy nature of this palette could indicate someone who was focused and purposeful.

I know this all to be true because I did know this artist, she was my mother.  Her palette is very representative of who she was. She was a recorder of nature. That was her purpose.  My paintings are emotion based. They were then, and they still are today.

My palette, the palette on the right, appears chaotic, rushed and perhaps even a bit impatient (as youth typically is!). I was a little rambunctious with my paint. The colors are strung across the the whole surface of the palette. Colors are everywhere! There is very little rhyme or reason to their placement. There are even colors on top of colors!

AirBrush_20171107203831.jpgYes, that is duct tape there on the edge. My palette has been through hell and high water with me (more on that someday). For now we will just say David had his rock….I had my palette.

AirBrush_20171107204154I feel my palette shows a need to be heard. It shows my inner chaos and struggle, my obsessive nature, my tenacity, my aggressive commitment to sharing who I was with the world….or learning who I was. I did not see it then, but as my inner storms begin to calm, I can see it. At the time I thought that I really didn’t have any methodology for what I was doing other than trying to mimic what I thought my mother was doing. (Not unlike a small girl trying to walk in her mothers high heals.)

Expressing my inner being is still most important to me. When I paint it is like an explosion! Though, with maturity and years of study, this complete palette mayhem has moved from being stuck to the palette to dominating the paper!

The Palette Reveals Technique:

IMG_20171106_065724As a new artist, I studied a lot. I sketched every person I could find in a magazine or in a book because that’s what I heard my mother’s teacher did when she started, so I figured that must be the way. I read as many stories about the Old Masters as many as I can find, and I painted. There were days that I would paint obsessively for as many as 10 or 14 hours straight.



My work area is very light in color. This is because I used far too much white in my work at the time. Like most beginners, I was utterly dependent on white for my highlights and for tonal adjustments.

Look at my mother’s palette on the left and notice how she did not use white often by the small amount of space she gave it on her palette. This is obvious when you see her paintings as they were very rich and lush which is a prime indicator of the quality and quantity of oils she used. This is very desirable in the traditional painting world, very little is white.

AirBrush_20171107204731.jpg(Art Tip! “White is to be used sparingly because white is reflective of all color around it….nothing is ever really white.”)

We can also tell from the rich tone of the work area on the surface of her palette that she used a good amount of oil with her paint. It still is rich and glossy in appearance, even under all of that dust! My palette rests chalky in appearance due to the over use of white and under use of oils.

AirBrush_20171107205113.jpgLook at how her paints rest in a perfect line, her palette shows us a lot about her methods. She was so very meticulous. The paints were always placed out in the same size bead. She always placed the colors in their designated places on the palette. The white is resting where the white always went. The Thalo where it always went…predictably each color is still resting in its place, where it always was. She could have went blind and still have been able to find her cadmium yellow and red!

So this is the surface understanding of things, but there is so much more…

An artist’s palette is like a time capsule.

On the palettes you can still see the residue from the last painting that we worked on.

I remember one of the last times, if not the last time, that mom was able to make it up to her studio. She climbed the stairs and out of breath we got to her studio and she pointed out a painting of camellia blossoms that she had dashed off the spring before. She pointed at them and said, “Look! I think this is the way.” This painting looked very different from what she normally painted. The canvas was simply filled with blossoms, greenery and light. She was so impressed that she was able to, if only that once, break out of her measured draughtsman type nature. The painting was almost an abstract she then gave me a book on the artist Kandinsky. As she explained how she finally was “getting there” and loosening up her work, my mind

As she was talking I recall glancing to the left and noticing a half completed painting of a quarter horse she took on commission. Her palette was balanced on her chair with the paint dried on it (exactly as it is in these photos) and I knew by seeing her palette messy (for her) that there was something alarming to note. I was shocked that she did not clean it off. I wondered if she would ever get to finish that painting.

IMG_20171026_063019If you look closely at my mothers palette, you will see streaks of dark blues, beautiful greens and purples that I was noticing that day.

She never became well enough to finish that portrait. I will never forget that painting. Not because it was so visually stunning (it was alright) but because it is still here on her palette, waiting.

Today I wonder if she left it unclean deliberately…

I imagine most artists do pass away with a painting on their palettes. Wouldn’t it be interesting to know what they were?

Artist palettes hold memories, they hold our essence.

AirBrush_20171107203831I feel my palette still vibes with the energy and passion of my youth and it can return me there in the blink of an eye. With a single beat of my heart I am standing in comfort and saftey of my old studio.

Thinking of as an adult, my studio was a hot mess. But as a young person, filled with passion and fight, it was a cacoon, it was the space that would birth me into becoming a strong, healthy and powerful woman.

At anytime you would find glasses of things left behind. Jars gunked up with turpentine and oil, brushes and gobs of paint. There would be old coffee cups with mold growing in them. Books and paints were everywhere.  I even had an old oriental rug! (of course I did right?!) Every wall was covered with a canvas tacked up on it.

When I look at my painting, I remember sweat rolling down my back and paint brushes holding up my hair. I recall standing in the same 3 foot square working on a canvas for endless hours. I remember how sticky and thick the hundred degree air would become in the summer and how textured the fields beyond my windows looked in the winter. I remember lovers and lilacs, sunflowers and cigarettes, wine and coffee…..

Ahhhhh youth….

Though I am not the girl I was when I held this palette, I am sure that I could not have become the woman I am today without her.

Hannah Tiffin


How artist Hannah Tiffin handles lack of inspiration.

This is the finished painting. It is a mix of watercolor and acrylic.

If you were to ask just about anyone who knows me to describe me, they would likely make a comment that I am one of the most creative people they know. Though this is likely true, here is a little known secret about me…truth is my creativity is regimented, contained, and organized. My results are in no way a result of mindless, carefree mishaps, they are instead calculated and firecely commanded.  My talent is not a fluke and my creativity is a skill I have sharpened through thousands and thousands of hours of work. The math alone dictates that they could not have all been fun hours with ideal conditions!

Another thing very few people know about me is that I am so driven and committed to my craft that other things suffer in my life. I do not have friends, I do not spend hours calling family and catching up, there are nights where my husband has to do all of the chores, cook the meals and be a single parent to our girls. He is also a very committed task master to his art form of a world percussionist so he understands, but he does not always like it. It is very difficult having a relationship with another dedicated creative. (More on that some other time).

Most days I work an 8 or 9 hour shift (also at a creative job), and then when I get home and we get the baby to sleep, I paint from 9 to 11pm each night. I awaken at 530am and by 630am,  I am back to work touching up a painting from the night before. This is a pretty typical day for me. I paint an average of 3 hours a day and many days I paint as many as 5 or 6 hours…multiply that by 20 years.

It is not fun. This does not mean it does not bring me joy. It means that I work hard and my work is incredibly serious. I am not looking to be a “good painter” I am striving towards mastery and a complete ability to express myself with complete and perfect accuracy through my paints. I have much work to do!

Why am I telling you all of this tonight? I know you thought you were just going to get a lesson in painting purple garden roses, but there is so much more to it then the photos offer. The roses could be anything, they are variables for any other subject you will ever choose to master. The constant is going to be the battle between the joy and the discipline. The constant is going to be the battle between the moments of daily distractions and the commitment to your craft. This thought, this conversation is as much a part of this painting as the paint I am getting ready to describe to you.

So heres the thing…I did not want to paint these roses. Nope. I truly did not. In the moments before I painted I all but broke down and cried because I was so tired and the thought of painting for a few hours did not seem as good as the idea of vegging out and staring off at the television while laying on the couch. I had a very busy few days prior and the baby was extra intense with teething issues, I have been working through waves of depression and a PTSD flair up…I just simply felt like I could not do….one…more…damn…thing. I felt depleted.

BUT! I have a pact with myself. In moments where I am greatly opposed to painting, I must paint. If only for a few moments. I have promised myself that I would never allow temporary circumstances to sabotage my longterm goals. I refuse to allow myself to be a self-saboteur. So I sat down and I chose to paint purple garden roses. I am not really good at painting them yet so it was a pretty lofty choice to choose them as a subject

However, it was safe for me to choose them because I had no expectations for this work to become a masterpiece.  My only goal was to simply get started and keep my personal promise. I simply had to paint something. Good or bad was indifferent. I simply had to keep the commitment I had to myself and to my future….the painting 

was simply the proof that I kept my word.

So here it is, the progression of my purple painting. From start to finish.  

I learned so much about this incredibly tough subject through the corse of the painting. It is true that I did not want to paint when I sat down and started this work, but I am so blessed that I have the commitment to push through that pain because now I have a whole new love for purple roses and I have a new excitement to give this another try now that I have all of this new understanding!
I chose to start with a blue innstead of a purple to create a sense of deep space. I wondered if it would give the roses dimension and richness later on. I feel that it truly did! As you will see as we go on, I may have been a bit more heavy handed than I should have been with this technique. But the bones, the main idea, is great! 
Next I added a deeper blue to really accent where I wanted to place the darkest darks, the shadow areas. I was trying to be careful to consider the light spaces where the petals would require more highlights later. They are so easy to cover up and so incredibly difficult to get back. The planning aspect of watercolor often scares artists out of trying them, but it is not as big of a chore as it seems! 
So the purple makes its first appearance! I was very light haneded with it at first.I also added a few touches of background greens, blues and purples. If you look closely you will notice I used the colors I splashed around to carefully cut out the edges of the flowers. This is a great way to draw with paint.
A bit more heavy handed now. I added more deep blues and purples into the equation. This is unfortunatly where I really started to over paint the darks and cover up the light spaces that I was seeking to be so careful of! One great thing in this stage is the rose to the left. I managed to get it into a place of great debth and it appears to be taking on a realistic, solid quality.
Enter the pinks! Wash, wash, wash. The main decisions have already been made. From here the painting is already three quarters of the way finished. Just about everything that I will add from here will be bells and whistles, the foundationals work is complete. The painting is strongly drawn, it is ver hard to have a poor outcome when you have a solid foundation.
I took a few photos and I noticed a few foundational flaws. I am pointing to how this rose appears flat and very thick. It appears to have a few missing petals. Note how rich and dark the rose on the left has gotten, the whites are all but lost now. 
Here we have the same foundational issue as in the photo prior. The roses shape prevents it from appearing real. I could add all of the paint in my box and it would not make it look more real without some foundational changes to the drawing.
Ahhhhhhh….here we go, I fixed them. I added more to each and filled them out by adding additional petals. I was very pleased with this painting at this time. I had been working on this sketch for a few hours at this point and I felt it was worth working on again.
I loved how three dimensional this rose felt and appeared. It was so rich and beautiful. I decided to leave the painting to rest over night and dry. If you recall I was very upset when I started working on this painting. Remember, I was simply just keeping my promise to myself when I started. Now at this ending place, I was feeling so much joy and I had a sense of ease. I went to bed feeling accomplished and balanced. I went to bed….happy.
I loved the painting when I awoke. I was so happy to start the completion of this painting. I felt it was going to be such a stunning masterpiece! I painted out more of the light spaces….ugh. The painting took a tough and swift turn. It began to look like three round purple dots. 
So I realized that I needed to get highlights back into this piece and I could not make this happen with adding a white watercolor overlay. The white watercolor simply was no match for the dark purples and blues. It totally disappeared as it dryed. So I added some white acrylic paint. Then I added some more, and some more…..oh boy! Tooooooooo MUCH!!! P.S. You are in trouble if you have to go so far as adding white acrylic to a watercolor…..I know this, but it happened anyway.
I refused to give up so I let the white dry and I painted over it with more watercolor. It left the painting looking a bit labored and unsure. The roses look cartoon in some areas and then in others they look very real. I chose to quit when I felt they were as good as they could be with out starting the cycle of adding white all over again! 
I let it dry and took a photo. (Watercolors must cure before photographs are taken) I do love this painting. I love that it is a promise kept. I feel that if I simply keep my promise to work through my issues and commit to my craft, everything will work out in the end. This is not a perfect painting, but the next one just might be….and it surely would not have the option if this painting did not happen. 



Negative Space – Dogwood sketch

Dogwood is one of my absolute favorite trees. I grew up in Maryland where dogwood trees were commonly found in bloom along the roadsides in the early spring. It was always so delightful to see their white petals, so delicate and bright in the new warm sunshine. It was a special time of year for me which still is alive in my heart.


Painting flowers can be a tough thing, but painting white flowers…well that is a whole other realm of complex! I have in no way mastered painting flowers, painting Dogwood blooms or painting anything white for that matter. But! I have learned a few things, that is the reason for this blog! Today when I set up to paint these blooms I felt that I needed a new approach. My Dogwood blooms in the past have looked like they were bogged down, platic and stiff to be kind. My goal today was to simply paint an image that moved and did not look like it was made of lead. I was hopeful for petals that moved and that was it. If I had these two things when I got up from the table, I promised myself that I would be happy. I am happy!

So here is what I learned. I started out with a very loose sketch of the blossoms, my sketch made the blooms appear almost like eggs. I did not spend time working out each petal or any detail. I simply found the center of the flowers and placed a circle around each to indicate where the petals as a whole would go. If you look really closely at the next two photos you will likely see this under drawing. Note how lightly and minimally I sketched. My whole point of making this sketch is placement. I wanted to simply make sure that everything had it’s place (so I did not loose room for any of the good stuff!).

Second, I refined my sketch so that the petals were loosely determined, I like to still leave myself room for adjustments.  I painted in the centers and I let them dry. I chose to do the centers first so that I had a strong set of visual anchors to help keep me grounded as I moved into the next stage.


Third, I chose a charcoal color to start cutting in the Dogwood. This is my new approach. Typically I would have continued painting the blossoms and then I would have added the background a bit later. I chose charcoal because it is a very agreeable color. I knew that I could add greens and reds to it and create a warm and pleasing background atmosphere.

Also, Note that I did allow some of the background paint to flow into where I knew the blossoms were because it would be found there through reflections.

After this stage, I added some color and more structure. I cut out the petals by pulling some of the back grounds negative space into the foreground. This gave the painting a cohesive feeling.


You might notice that the painting really started taking shape when the back ground became a part of the foreground. It was a way to draw with paint. It gave a strong foundation for the colors as they were introduced.

From here, it was a bunch of flicks of the wrist. I do firmly believe that a paintings success is determined in the choices we make in the first few moments. It is in our set up that we choose our success. When a painting is built on a strong foundation, it becomes very forgiving. We can use wrong colors, it can usually withstand a few stray lines and poor choices. When we do not start with  a strong foundation or vision our painting can suffer no stray lines and we often can not move the idea past a single poor color choice. Even worse, when we do not build our painting on a solid foundation, we will compound our poor choices, one on top of another in attempt to correct it. We can not fix foundation issues with surface solutions!

So, is this a great painting…no not really. It is great in that I was able to create something pleasing. I was able to accomplish my goals and learn a new approach. I like to think that this painting is great because it is what will make the next attempt that much more pleasing. This sketch is important, it has confirmed to me that I am on the right track.

Day in the life of an artist


For me, it is tough to paint every day. This may be surprising to many because I get comments all of the time about how productive people think I am. Most days there is at least one person who will say something highlighting surprise that I am able to find time to paint with such a busy life. The truth is, I don’t “find” time. Hell…I don’t even “make” time to paint. I take time. Just like I am “taking” time to blog right now.

Just like people are surprised that I am able to “find” the time to paint everyday, a large majority of people who see my work envision that I paint in a large, airy studio space with beautiful large windows.  It can be surprising for others to learn that I am just like most artists, I paint at my kitchen table, in terrible lighting amongst a pile of clutter which can include anything from bills, to car keys, slime my teenager has made, to cookies and half empty bottles of water…or all of the above!

Most days I wake at 6:30 am after being up one to two times during the night to feed the baby. I go to work and after working a whole day at the flower shop I am tired and I move into the evening routine. There could be a trip to the grocery store, the gas station or some other random place on the way home. There is dinner to cook, dishes to do and children to attend to.

Most evenings when I paint, I have a whole house moving around me. There are times where I am able to put headphones on and listen to music or a sermon but many days I am working with out because I am still on duty as a mother to a 7 month old. I often try to work during her nap time (which is not long) or after she goes to sleep for the night. Sometimes she wakes, when she does I try to bring her to my table top studio to finish my painting.

Sounds relaxing huh?! Well, you know what, for me it is perfect. It’s ok that the house is alive around me and that my husband needs my help and my kids want my attention. I love that my teen wants to sit at the already crowded table with me and paint too because she loves what her mother is doing. It’s alright that I can not listen to music or a sermon and the television is on and my husbands ipad is playing foreign music I can’t understand. I am ok with the cat using the living room and kitchen as a race way and that the fan in the middle of the floor is humming like a 747 is about to take off even though the house is still hotter than hell…this is my life.


All of these little, and not so little, noises and disturbances…they are my family.


All of the messes, they belong to my children…..I have such beautiful children.

I suppose as I look at things, I “take” time to paint. When I paint I notice all of the things that this blog has mentioned. When I paint, I notice how incredibly blessed I am. So of course my work, my paintings, look like they were painted in an optimal inspirational environment, because they were!

My paintings are joyful because I am joyful. They radiate joy and vibrancy and excitement because that is where I internally live as a person. My work is rich, because I too am rich. I am so incredibly rich in my spirit that my blessings do runneth over in many ways….and in many colors!