Watercolor painting from photographs

Painting today is fantastic due to the wealth of information on the internet.   Interacting, and viewing works by fantastic watercolorists such as Alvaro Castagnet, Michael Reardon,  Keiko TanabeOscar Norblom, Sadhu Aliyur, and others inspire my watercolors.

While it is cool to see finished paintings, I have always been drawn to explanations, or demonstrations of the painting process itself.  Watching an artist paint is fascinating.  After all, there are thousands, millions, of choices you can make.    I have stood, many times, for an hour or more, at fairs and watched artists paint.

I spend many years as a professional photographer.  While I loved traveling & photographing worldwide landmarks I was bound by the limitations of my camera and the subject I was shooting.  You can zoom in or use a wide angle to distort.  You can double expose film.  Photoshop could create outlandish colors and remove (with work) backgrounds and objects. You can be creative.  Very creative.  But something was missing.

A blank canvas, or in my case, a sheet of white paper, knows no limitations.

Now that I am painting, I have 10s of thousands of photographs to paint from.  Recently, I began work on a watercolor of the UNESCO World Heritage ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru. I began with a preliminary painting several months, and recently completed the finished piece (below).

Original photograph and finished watercolor painting

Above are the original photograph(s) of Machu Picchu, with the finished painting on 300lb Arches to the right.

The photograph of the Incan ruin is a photo-montage of different photographs.  The savvy traveler might have noticed this is an impossible viewpoint at Machu Picchu….

Above is the preliminary sketch painted several months ago.  As you can see in the finished watercolor, I left out many details,  and drastically changed the colors.  The finished piece was fun- I painted the ruins in little over an hour.

I hope this gives you a little insight into my mind when I paint.  Unfortunately, no one will have the opportunity to witness me create my art (except neighbors, and I apologize in advance) since I have a tendency to paint in my underwear.

In North Carolina, that’s probably illegal. 🙂



(919) 645-8345





Photography and painting

Phototgraphy and watercolor painting Are something I both enjoy.  In the right hands both are artistic, but involve different methods and approaches (not to mention equipment).

After 13+ years photographing weddings, I have decided to halt my wedding and portrait photography business to concentrate on fine art painting- Watercolor, specifically.  I graduated University of Michigan with a BFA in Drawing/Painting.   I enjoyed painting, but had a tendency to paint in a photo-realistic manner.  I gravitated to photography as a result.

While i concentrated on photography as a career, I never changed my major.  What was the point?  I would have been in school another year and another $_K in debt.   Ow.

Since I was getting an art degree, and suck at waiting tables, I might as well finish school quickly.

Times change.  Film converts to digital.   Instead of spending my time shooting, I spent a large portion of it in front of the computer.

Computers are great, but I have never been a big fan of digital since it involves so much time organizing, storing, and editing on the computer.  Digital photography is great too, but lacks the element of surprise I enjoyed with film.  While I continued to mix digital & film with my wedding shoots, my clients’ desires for both decreased.  most people were not interested in true B&W film, Holgaramas, or the artistic & unique work I was producing with film.

The clients who hired me, not surprisingly, were artists.

With the birth of my second son,  my free-time during the day (my older son was in pre-k) were over.

There went my editing time…

The past few years I had started reading and browsing the web about watercolor painting.  I ordered books and looked at numerous websites.  And I became excited.

In college, my watercolors looked like photographs.  Now, my goal is to produce a painting FROM a photograph.

The first painting I created looked nothing like a photograph.  I could change anything- color, or composition.

I was pleasantly shocked.

I still don’t have much free time, but I am using the time I have to paint.

Will I shoot weddings in the future?  Probably.  In a few years.  Or I might stick to painting.  We’ll see what happens.


R. Fox Photography/Painting


(919) 645-8345


Tips and advice on mixing watercolor

Watercolor painting has always fascinated me. The luminosity cannot be replicated with oil or acrylic.

However, watercolor does have a bad rap because people associate it with old ladies painting flowers.

No offense, there is nothing wrong with flower paintings, but I quickly discovered that there are a lot of amazing artists creating wonderful and vibrant watercolors of cityscapes, abstracts, and portraits (and flowers too).  When I was in college, I took a watercolor class with Roland Roycraft– the first person I saw paint watercolors by masking the white of the paper & pouring paint on the surface. The effect was unlike anything I had ever seen. Of course, I was the youngest person in the workshop by, oh, easily, 30 or 40 years. But I learned a lot because Roland, and the attendees in the workshop, had decades of painting experience.

Since returning to painting, I have read a ton of books, tried a variety of styles, and spent a lot of time on the internet soaking up the knowledge. I love the online vibrant artist communities such as facebook and Fine Art America, but there have been a few things I have not been able to find easily on the internet, or in books (what are those?). Mainly, how to make the paint look luminous and, well, like watercolor.

The subject that has perplexed me has been color mixing. Sure, yellow and blue make green. But yellow mixed INTO blue, wet-into-wet, creates a green that is vibrant and sparkles. Painting yellow on top of a dried blue layer creates another color. Mixing yellow and blue on the palette creates a different looking color. Using the same two colors, even in the same proportions, creates different mixes depending on the application.

Last week I took it upon myself to investigate watercolor color mixing. Actually, I wanted to copy colors in paintings I have seen by Michael Reardon, Paul Jackson, and Alvaro Castagnet, and Iain Stewart. These guys are a few of the demi-gods of watercolor painting.  Their styles are different.  Some paint by carefully layering color over colors.  Some paint wet-into-wet.  No matter their technique, the quality of their paintings humbles me.

My experiments yielded some interesting results:

(Ultramarine Blue painted & Windsor Red dropped wet-into-wet)

The small swatches on the left are Windsor Red with layer of Ultramarine painted on top (TOP) and Ultra. Blue with Windsor Red layered on top (BOTTOM)

The large swatch shows Ultramarine Blue dropped wet-into-wet on top of Windsor Red.

The small strip to the right is Ultra. Blue and WR pre-mixed on the palette.  Notice how muddy this color appears, while the wet-into-wet swatches appear completely different.

Moving on, I have more examples:

(Indian Red  with Cobalt Blue dropped wet-into-wet)

The top-right swatch is Cobalt Blue with Indian Red dropped wet-into-wet.  The small strip underneath is Cobalt and Indian Red pre-mixed on palette.  The two small squares on the far left are Indian Red with Cobalt layered (TOP) and Cobalt with a layer of Indian Red layered (BOTTOM).

Again, completely different looks from two colors.  Oh, now I know how I am going to paint sunlit clouds against a blue sky for my next painting….. 🙂

Windsor Red with Cobalt Blue dropped wet-into-wet.  The small stripe on the left shows the colors mixed on palette.

Large swatch shows Cobalt Blue with Windsor Red charged into the mix (wet on wet).

Confused?  That is what I love about watercolor.

I realize I will never complete a painting without a few “happy” accidents, but small color studies like these will improve my choice, and the order, of painted colors.

Hope your brushes are busy.

(Watercolor painting of downtown Seattle- further examples on my website)


Ryan Fox



(919) 645-8345








Watercolor batik painting- wax resist on rice paper

True story:

Today, I tell my wife that I am “Going to use thick juicy washes in a painting, and then going to play with hot wax (in another painting)”.

And she tells me I am a pervert! 🙂

Not fair.

The August ’11 issue of Watercolor Artist  featured an article by artist Kathie George about watercolor painting on rice paper using wax resist.  Basically, you melt paraffin wax (commonly known as gulf wax)  and apply it to the areas you want to save as white (like masking fluid) on the canvas- the rice paper.  You continue to building layer upon layer and gradually add paint to the areas you have not added wax.  When you are finished with the darkest darks, you crumble the paper creating cracks in the wax, apply another layer of paint, and re-wax.  When you remove the wax, you are left with an image that has a weathered and distinct look.  I love the technique, and hey, I get to play with hot wax!   My table hates it.  It is a mess.

Here were the first two attempts at this watercolor technique:

(Watercolor batik of Banteay Srei- Angkor Wat ruins near Siem Reap, Cambodia)

(Watercolor batik of Angkor Wat sunrise- UNESCO World Heritage park)

I applied too much color to the top of the fully-waxed painting for the Angkor Sunrise photograph, but was rather happy with the gradations of the sky (rice paper has no sizing so it has been difficult to control smooth blending of the sunrise).

For the life of me, I cannot create a painting without hi-contrast.  Really, I am trying….

The original images are for sale (please send an email through my website) or as fine art proofs (also through website).



R. Fox Photography

(919) 645-8345


How do you get wax off of your table?


Watercolor paintings of Angkor using the mouth atomizer

During the wedding off-season I have been painting as much as time permits.  Of course, with two children (one 4, one almost 4 months), this is easier said than done.
I am currently working on a series of watercolors based on the Khmer ruins at Angkor Wat.  I have visited Cambodia several times to photograph the UNESCO archaeological ruins of Angkor Thom.  The best known local within the city of Angkor Thom is the ruined temple of Angkor Wat.
Recently, I saw a youtube video of Mark Mehaffey using a mouth atomizer.  Basically, it’s a poor man’s airbrush.  Instead of using compressed air to blow the paint onto the canvas, you use your breath.
I composed 95% of this painting using the mouth atomizer and contact paper to build the values and colors.

(Watercolor of sunrise over Khmer ruins of Angkor Wat- Cambodia)

The remaining 5%   image was painted with a brush.

While I had difficulty controlling the spray (especially in the smooth gradations in the sky), I was encouraged by the results and will continue to use the mouth atomizer, a $6-7 dollar product, in future paintings.

Using the mouth atomizer was considerably different from my normal watercolor paintings.  Instead of painting light-to dark, I went dark-to-light.  The contact paper preserves your whites while you spray the dark colors.  Beware of cutting into the paper though as you remove the contact/frisket film

I photographed three recent paintings too:

(Watercolor painting of Eastern Gate to Angkor Thom)






R. Fox Photography

(919) 645-8345