Carolyn Lord - Every Painting Is a Story - Creative Catalyst Productions

Carolyn Lord - Every Painting Is a Story

December 10, 2018 6 min read 2 Comments

A note from Kelly: Every painting is a story of creation. When Carolyn Lord sent me her answers to her interview (find her full interview here), she included a wonderful amount of information about her specific paintings. I wanted you to be able to see the image she was speaking about when she spoke of it. So instead of repeating images over and over within the interview, I decided to pull out most of her discussion of individual paintings and create their own section. It's eye-opening to read how she uses color, shape, and edge and thenlook at her individual paintings with that in mind. Thank you, Carolyn, for being so generous with your knowledge. 


“Callas and Barrow”

Color Palette:
In “Callas and Barrow,” orange-based neutrals dominate the painting and makes a perfect foil for the lavender-green interpretation of the white callas in the shade. The leaves in the shadow are the most vivid colors and the darkest.

Whereas most of my paintings are painted in a purely direct manner, occasionally I’ll treat the shadow shape as a completely separate shape and paint it next to the sunlight shape. For example, in “Callas and Barrow” I painted the right foreground, back wall, and leaf shadows all as separate shapes.

I wanted to describe the masonry block wall in the back of my yard, but didn’t want to draw attention to it because it’s main role in the composition was to show that it was in the shadow. I used the painted line to describe the size and perspective of the blocks. Then all I has to worry about was painting the wall the correct color and correct value!

I wanted to describe the masonry block wall in the back of my yard, but didn’t want to draw attention to it because it’s main role in the composition was to show that it was in the shadow. I used the painted line to describe the size and perspective of the blocks. Then all I has to worry about was painting the wall the correct color and correct value!  

“L Street at Sunset”

Color Palette:
I used the secondary triad with blue-greens, oranges, and lavenders, which is definitely one of my personal color biases.

How I approached it:
“L Street at Sunset” is an example of direct painting where the individual shapes of the shadows were painted separately after all of the shapes in the sunlight were painted.

Notice the shadows read as large shapes while it’s still delineating the architectural forms within the shadows. The winter light was crisp, falling across rectilinear, architectural forms which made hard, crisp edges. This made the round posts a point of interest so I took great care to show the difference between the cast shadow and form shadows on the post, as well as noticing is the object casting the shadow was close to the surface resulting in a hard edge such as the canopy shadow on the garage door, whereas the building from across the street casts a diffused shadow on the asphalt.

In this painting, I used color as a way to describe distance. Again, it was painted in winter when the humidity is high and the sunlight is weak, so the shadows aren’t very dark and the colors of the red post and orange fascia are muted. The far gas station’s awning is edged with vivid blue and orange but with distance, they became shades of brown and grey.


Color palette:
Primary colors of Cobalt Blue, Yellow Ochre, and Permanent Rose dominate in “Playhouse.”

“Playhouse” is an example of the two-step process of painting shadows falling over a sunlight surface. Notice the shadows on the left are warm, deep and solid while the shadows on the right are atmospheric: lighter in value and incorporate blues. This shift allowed me to suggest the distance between the red playhouse that is close to me and the barn in the distance.

“Mendocino Garden Afternoon”


Color Palette:
The whole color wheel is present in “Mendocino Garden Afternoon.”

Color is nice but the use of a lot of saturated, strong color can undermine a painting. “Mendocino Garden Afternoon” is approximately divided in half: large areas of light value neutrals to contrast the other half of the painting that is full of small shapes of color.

In “Mendocino Garden Afternoon” I added another layer of a gray over the shaded porch in the middle of the composition so it’d be darker than the pink dahlias. The house on the right edge was too pale so I glazed the roof with a warm color and the wall with a cool, or bluish color.

Looking at the house on the left in “Mendocino Garden Afternoon,” you can see the painted block-in line that describes the roof’s edge and the upstairs window. I realized it’d be a more successful painting if I did not get too involved in the façade. I knew that the lines I created with my brush to describe the eave and windows would be dry by the time I painted the silhouette of the house. Those lines would give just enough visual information about the architectural style and scale of the house but not compete with the main focus of the garden.

“October Morning, Point Bouchon”

I painted the sunlit top of the two rocks and two of the vertical planes of the foreground rock directly onto dry paper. The low morning sun meant that the vertical planes reflected the warm sunlight and the horizontal plane reflected the sky. To suggest the glare and show that the rock has an eroded, rounded edge I painted one plane then immediately remixed the color and painted the other plane, allowing the two colors to fuse and create the soft transition.

Knowing that I’d want to describe the ripples of the water, I painted lines that suggested perspective and showed their changing directions. When it was time to paint, I focused on the color, especially on the effect of the warm rocks reflected on the surface of the water. After this dried, I used the faint lines to guide me in painting the ripples.

“Shell Beach Opalescence”
Color Palette: I again used the secondary triad with blue-greens, oranges, and lavenders.

In the past several years I have added the goal of soft edges to my painting strategy. I’ll assess what edges need to be hard and crisp and where is it appropriate to have a soft edge, anticipating wet-into-wet. I use this indefinite effect in some of the shadow areas, where the face of the rock merges into the shadow, creating a shape that forms its edge where the shadow meets the light This concept is an influence of the Golden Gate Atelier, where I have been taking part-time classes. The mantra is that light describes form, shadows are atmosphere. I’m enjoying integrating this concept into my work

“Narcissus and Lemon”

Color Palette:
“Narcissus and Lemon” is a painting of complimentary colors; yellow and purple, exemplified by the narcissus. I used yellows to mix the sunlit leaves, Ultramarine Violet was used to mix the neutralized background.

Thinking about the motif, I was interested in the idea of the first bloom of the season.

In “Narcissus and Lemon,” I started by painting the silhouette of the white narcissus and yellow lemons. In my paintings, the “whites” are painted because it’s an expression of the color of light falling across a white surface. Wanting to suggest the texture of the lemon peel, I used granulating pigments.

Next, I painted the leaves that face the sunlight, observing how close in value the leaves were to the sunlit blossoms and fruit. I painted the lemon stems and branches, then the neutralized orange background that represents the concrete driveway on the other side of this garden bed. Some areas were all in shadow so I painted them dark in the direct method. Other shadows were falling across a form so I’d paint the shadow shapes on top of the silhouette shape I had painted earlier. Wanting to convey the weak winter light, I was careful to make the shadows on the narcissus just a slight value darker. The shadow on the lemons are either cast shadows with hard edges or form shadows with soft edges.

“Poppy Patch”

Color Palette:
“Poppy Patch” is the most obvious version of my bias, the secondary triad with blue-greens, oranges, and lavenders.

I wanted to explore the interesting color relationships within a garden and unexpected spots of beauty. “Poppy Patch” was an untended corner of my garden with naturalized annuals and wildflowers. The painting has mostly sun-blanched colors with small proportions of vivid color to represent the shadows.


You can read Carolyn Lord's Creative Catalyst interview here. Learn more about Carolyn Lord by visiting her at her website and on Facebook.

2 Responses

Carolyn Lord
Carolyn Lord

December 18, 2018

Dear Nancy, Thank you for your kind words about my art work! I’ll be happy to answer your questions.

Most of my watercolors are on Arches #140 Cold Press. “Shell Beach Opalescence” and “Seafoam” are on a paper that is new on the market: Stonehenge Aqua #300 Cold Press.

Flat or tilted? “Shell Beach Opalescence” was painted in the studio on a slightly slanted board. All the others were field paintings, I sit and hold the board on my lap: flat, tilted, vertical, or even upside down, all depends on where I am in the development of the painting and which direction I want the pigment to flow.

I hope this is helpful.



Nancy Bilbro
Nancy Bilbro

December 14, 2018

What a wonderful detailed article! Carolyn Lord so carefully described with specific details, her beautiful watercolor paintings. I would greatly appreciate her sharing which watercolor papers are her most favorite, and if she paints on a flat or tilted surface. Lastly, I wish I could attend one of her workshops, but the distance and time do not make that an option. Is she planning to make a video workshop soon? If so, please sign me up for the first one! Thank you so much! Nancy Bilbro

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