Painting Watercolors with Mom

One of Mom’s watercolors

One of Mom’s watercolors

Oyster shells I’ve collected

Oyster shells I’ve collected

Over the course of the last year I have been working on one watercolor, made up of 21 individual portraits of oyster shells. The shells were saved from restaurant meals consumed all up and down the East Coast, ranging from Florida to Connecticut. Each one commemorates a delicious meal, has been labeled with its provenance, and lovingly portrayed.

Each time I sit down to work on this painting is a small meditation. It requires me to quietly focus on the subtle color changes of an essentially white object and explore the tiny topography that makes each shell unique.

The watercolor set I am using for the painting is one that my mom, Dianne Mumm, had used. She died in April of 2018, from Alzheimer’s. Due to her disease, she had not felt like painting for the last few years of her life. She knew she couldn’t paint like she used to and didn’t want to be incompetent. Mom was a very accomplished watercolorist, always perfecting her craft. I admire her skill with this challenging medium, having never acquired it myself, and cherish her paintings that I have in my home.

Mom created her own palette by choosing individual pans of watercolor, rather than buying a pre-made set. Her color choices were bolder than mine. Her paintings of Iowa fields frequently contained swathes of purple and shadows of deep turquoise. How is it that the pan of bright orange is nearly empty? Using her watercolors means I too consider the possibility of these colors in the natural world. I have been finding myself becoming bolder in the color choices in my own artworks.

Her brushes are all high quality sable. She had gathered a wide assortment of sizes and shapes. For my oyster painting I’m generally reaching for the fine points to paint the tiny details of an oyster shell.

Mom’s watercolor set and brushes

Mom’s watercolor set and brushes

I don’t know to what purpose I will ultimately put this one watercolor of mine. And I already have enough shells collected that I have to start a new painting.

But this whole exercise is a precious experience that has brought me a little closer to Mom.

In the Studio

We and the boat have been back home in New Jersey all summer. I have spent many hours furiously painting in the studio, getting maritime-themed pieces ready for the two big art fairs I had scheduled this year.

First I created 7 painting/collages on wood panels that are 12”x12”x2 1/2”. The small size enabled me to feel confident creating a new image vocabulary and developing new techniques, without committing to a large size, with its risk of a BIG mistake. I realize that I am painting equally with textured colored papers and my acrylic paints. The papers add a layer of rich color and texture to the paintings.

I am painting around the edges of the wood panel since they are so deep. This gives the pieces a finished look without framing them. They are instead protected with several layers of matte varnish and have more of a physical presence on the wall. Sometimes I have to make a decision on how to present an object when continuing an image around a corner when 3 planes meet on the picture surface that would not meet in the real world.

After these initial paintings, I moved to larger sized panels; three pieces 18” x 24” x 1/12” and one that is 24” x 24” x 2 1/2”. There are many more panels in my studio ready to go!

Painting scenes that I encounter on the waterways has been letting me relive the tranquility and beauty that I find there and then take it out into the big world to share with my viewers.

(c)Denise Mumm 2018  Porthole View: Sassafras River, 24”x24”x2 1/2”, acrylic paint & collage on wood panel

(c)Denise Mumm 2018

Porthole View: Sassafras River, 24”x24”x2 1/2”, acrylic paint & collage on wood panel

New Life, New Art

studio shot.jpg

A year of changes.

In 2017 I got married and my husband and I sold both our houses and bought a new house on the northern end of the Jersey Shore.

This is a peek at my new studio.





We took a honeymoon voyage with our boat Picture Perfect over 500 miles north on the Intracoastal Waterway to bring the boat home. This was my first exposure to life on the water.



We made the boat our home for the two months we were between houses. After we were moved in to the new house, we started to move the boat south again for the winter.

A stretch of uncharacteristically cold weather during our southern migration on the Intracoastal gave me the opportunity to capture some of my observations of the maritime life in pencil studies. My curiosity has been piqued by my surroundings. I have relationships with new creatures. I notice the patterns made by water and schools of fish, the sunlit whites of neighboring boats and coiled ropes, and the beauty in portholes and pilings.

I  am starting to use these studies to create incised collages on wood. There is still plenty to discover. What is the local market for art? How will the subject matter affect my working methods? Is the art community here supportive and encouraging? It's a whole new exciting world.