New Montana License Plate

Monday, February 4th, 2013

Friends of the Wild Swan sponsored license plate

If you drive through Montana, you quickly notice a wide variety of license plates on the vehicles you follow or walk by in parking lots.  Any organization in the state can sponsor a license plate to promote and raise funds for their cause giving a new customer over 125 choices at the DMV. Look here at just the available wildlife plates. I was contacted by Steve Kelly, a board member of Friends of the Wild Swan, and Wild Rockies Alliance who, as a gallery owner and artist himself, was in charge of putting together the license plate. I was thrilled that he wanted the subtle elegance of a sumi painting of a bull trout to represent the wilderness and wildlife protections they advocate. After painting dozens of trout, this image was chosen then assigned a blue-grey color.

Bull Trout-1 © 2012 Sandy Haight

I enjoyed working on the design as well, following a template with drill holes, tab and alpha-numeric spaces, consulting with the graphic designers in the prison, then watching, by way of Steve, as they enlarged the state name, lightened the trout even more than the 50% requirement and added a borderline over the course of several months.  Now, I wish I lived in Montana to see the plate on the road.

Here are some of my other sumi trouts that we considered. All are available for purchase.

Bull Trout-2 © 2012 Sandy Haight

Bull Trout-3 © 2012 Sandy Haight

Bull Trout-4 © 2012 Sandy Haight

Bull Trout-5 © 2012 Sandy Haight

Yellowstone Aspens in Autumn: exploring the background tones

Sunday, November 25th, 2012

Yellowstone Aspens watercolor © Sandy Haight

A trip to Yellowstone in mid September brought me up close and personal with the turning of the Aspen leaves to all shades of yellows and oranges.  Their bright colors can’t help but make you feel sunny as they flicker in the breezes.  Getting close, the masses of color aren’t the only theme as the spaces in between the sprigs take on more importance.

I used this composition to teach a glazing process for creating colorful neutral backgrounds to my fall students at Bellevue College. I layered a thin flat glaze of Aureolin yellow, followed by thin glazes of Rose Madder, then Cobalt blue after each layer dried to create a luminous gray. This was too pale and flat alone for my interest, but made a foundation for adding more color wet on wet to blend and flow to enhance the neutral foundation.  After 6-10 layers of color here’s what the background looked like before I even started painting the main attraction….the leaves.

Luminous neutral background washes © Sandy Haight

Luminous neutral background washes-Yellowstone Aspens © Sandy Haight

In the beginning I masked out the leaves so I could brush the background colors freely over the whole surface.  This image shows the mask removed, the veins sketched in and ready for color with additional masking fluid added to the lightest areas preserving the white of the paper. Still, when the leaves were painted, the background needed to have more blues and greens to tie in the green leaf in the lower right to make it feel like it belonged to the painting, so more layers were carefully added to unify the painting. What do you think? I think it works and I’ll add it to my watercolor gallery on and enjoy the rest of the yellow Seattle autumn.

Watercolor process. Young Elk painting step-by-step

Friday, August 3rd, 2012

Young Elk, watercolor by Sandy Haight

I decided it was time for me to record my painting process from reference photo to finish when one of my students, Rodney Hill, documented the different stages of completing his class watercolor painting.  His printouts were of great value to future students explaining the steps they would use to paint realistically using photo references.  Watch how my watercolor painting of a young elk evolved. The reference photo is at the end of this post.

1. Once the paper is stretched by stapling soaked watercolor paper to gator board, dried, and outlines of the shapes transferred to the paper, a mask is applied to the foreground subject to preserve the white of the paper.  Some of the flowers and lighter grasses are also masked to allow a free and loose underpainting. The mask has a yellow tint in order to see where it has been applied.  (This 1st  photo is not lit correctly).

1. Mask and 1st Underpainting


2. More background is added including the mountains and the dark forested hillside.  More washes are layered onto the underpainting of the field.

2. Background added


3. Not being a landscape painter, I wasn’t sure how I was going to handle all the texture of the field but was eager to paint the subject. I procrastinated dealing with that dilemma and I removed the mask a bit early.  Usually I build up the background to a near finished state before removing the mask. Now all the whites are available for adding in pure color or lighter tints.

3. Masking is removed


4. At this point, the elk is painted (my favorite part) and the background herd, rocks and bushes are added as well as more foreground layers of washes and textures to make all the masked grasses blend better into the field.  Now that the animal is developed, though, I realize that the dark background hillside is demanding way too much attention, distracting the viewer from the beauty of the elk by advancing with its strong values.  Do you agree? I need to tone that down. My other concern was that having applied mask to details in the field I was stuck with the task of defining the grasses and wildflowers more clearly than I might have liked. Since this started out as a demo painting, it worked well for teaching purposes by showing various ways of using and applying masking fluid.

4. Elk & more grass textures painted in


5. Yes, it is possible to fix watercolor errors, to a point.  I scrubbed away at that dark hillside to force it to take its proper, more subtle place in the back of the picture.  I tried to straighten the horizon line a bit which was at an awkward downhill slant.  This was as light as I could get it, and it still has some room to create a sense of the trees by adding more glazes of color.

5. Background hill scrubbed lighter


6. I masked the yellow flowers again so that I could intensify the foreground with further washes and grass detail while preserving the color of the flowers. It’s hard to see the little blobs of mask over the flowers.

6. Flowers masked again


7. Here’s the finished painting again from top of the post, with trees suggested in the hillside, grasses more defined and yellows enhanced. Another layer of sky was added and more layers of washes in the mountains to finish it.

7. Young Elk, final watercolor by Sandy Haight


8. Below is the photo I used for reference.  Driving out of Rocky Mountain National Park we passed this brave young elk, grazing right by the roadside.  I’m not sure I’ll ever be a landscape painter…it’s hard to improve on Nature, but I loved painting this beautiful animal who let me get quite close for a photo.

8. Rocky Mountain Elk photo by Sandy Haight


Seeing Green for Saint Patrick’s Day

Monday, March 12th, 2012

With the higher demand for vector illustration these days I’ve been recreating some of my favorite traditionally drawn images as vector art.  This gives me a chance to update the line work to my current stroke styling, opening it up.  Below is the original art for a packaging design for Caravali Coffee’s Irish Creme flavor.   I credit that assignment with the birth of my current style.   With creative freedom, I had 13 flavors to illustrate, creating a new direction and a new portfolio to present to a wider market.  The strong line and vivid color has found many uses in print and web as seen on this web site.  My styling lends itself well to vector, don’t you think?   But, I still welcome any opportunity to paint!  Let’s paint the town GREEN!

Identity-logo development

Sunday, June 12th, 2011

I was contacted by Heather LaFleur, a designer in Germany, working for a client in Montreal, Quebec, Canada for a true international collaboration. She wanted to explore several ideas for an illustrated identity which would be used as her logo on the web, stationary,  business cards and in-office product. The client, Dr. Sandra McGill, a plastic surgeon, felt an affinity for Nike, the Winged Victory statue at the Louvre in Paris, France. She also wanted to consider a single torso, and an overlapping group of three torsos. A version of the placed logo can be seen on Dr. McGill’s web site at where the image is toned down and emerges to be a subtle background.

Follow here as I develop the project from concept to completion.

First sketch and first revision:

We realized when the image was flipped, we could create the client’s S.M. initials in the feathers of the wings.










Solo torso options:







1.  vector                           2.  vector                    3.  sketch from sumi painting

Torso grouping options:







1.  From solo above      2.  Three different bodies       3.  Abstraction-profiles only

Buyout – Revised first sketch proceeds to finish

My concept of the Winged Victory statue art was approved and I won the contract to refine the image further for use as a logo. I explored several painting techniques from loose and rough to tight and refined and even vector. The client also wanted to consider adding a head or part of one to reflect the part of her work on faces. Here are some of those renderings.










Black ink brush line       Ink line /Watercolor tone         Bold Brush               Sumi ink with tone


Final selected icon – Watercolor toned line on Arches cold press paper


From the design blog of Heather LaFleur about this process.

Visit these links for more background story:


Logo design for middle school girls

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

Here’s a logo that I just completed for Ed Lab Group, funded by a grant to teach Google’s Sketch Up to middle school girls this summer.  I’m usually asked to draw logos with an illustration, so this was a fun experience to create this text only logo completely in Adobe Illustrator using fonts, brushes and 3D effects.  Part of the project was to provide a compatible header and footer to for Word files.  I offered up my watercolor splatter border which gave the logo a lively BOOST and gave me the sense of a playful hand in there.   Here’s the evolution of this design, picked from several options, as it made its way to the final at the top of this post.  Thanks to Laura Enman for her clear art direction.