Art @ Home: Sugar Painted Abstract Watercolor Project

Often as a child, I had countless conversations with natural things in the forests and fifields, and I can still remember how the Dialogues went, from the real to the mysterious, from the earthly to the heavenly.”—Vincent Andrew Hartgen

The Maine landscape has inspired artists for generations and Vincent Andrew Hartgen was no different. Born on January 10, 1914, in Reading, Pennsylvania, Hartgen was an artist from an early age. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and during World War II (1942- 1945) he was a camoufleur, or a person who designed military camouflage. Hartgen arrived at the University of Maine Orono in 1946 and taught until his retirement in 1982. He passed away on November 27, 2002, at the age of 88. He was a prolific artist, creating an estimated 2,000 signed paintings and drawings and an equal number of sketches.

Vincent Andrew Hartgen, Neptune Churn. Watercolor. 19 1/2 in. x 25 1/2 in. (49.53 cm x 64.77 cm). Gift of the artist. Accession Number: 1956.002

For this activity you are going to create your own colorful abstract inspired by Vincent Andrew Hartgen’s Neptune Churn using a technique called Sugar Painting. Hartgen’s painting is on view for the first time as a part of the exhibition A Poetics of Atmosphere: Lorna Simpson’s Cloudscape and Other Works from the Collection.


  • watercolors
  • tape
  • water cup
  • pan or mug
  • oven or microwave
  • watercolor paper
  • paintbrush
  • sugar
  • water
  • measuring spoon

Getting Started

Lay out some paper to protect the table that will be your work surface. Tape it down to keep it from moving about. You need to be quick with this project so have your entire workspace prepared before you mix the sugar solution:

1) Tape down the watercolor paper.

2) Have a cup of water ready for painting.

3) Know what colors you plan on using. Pre-wet them so they are ready to use.

Prepare your sugar solution

The solution is 2 parts sugar to 1 part water…and you do not need a lot. One tablespoon of water and two tablespoons of sugar is plenty for this project.

1) Ask an adult to help you boil the solution to dissolve the sugar. This can be done on the stovetop or using a mug in the microwave. Make sure the sugar solution has cooled down a little before applying.

2) Apply an even layer of the sugar solution with the big paintbrush. Now here is where you have to move fast before the sugar solution starts to dry.

Apply Watercolor Paint

1) Dip your paintbrush into the watercolor and gently tap it onto your paper. The paintbrush you choose will determine the shape and size of the color. The amount of paint and water will determine how bright the color is, how much it will blend with other colors, and how far the paint moves across the paper. Different types of watercolor papers are included and will look different.

2) Keep adding to your composition until you are happy. Remember, less can be more. Your composition will continue to grow, so leave a little white space.

3) Let your work dry completely before moving. It will have a glossy finish even after it dries.

Experiment, try new ideas, and don’t get discouraged if something doesn’t work. All artists learn by doing.

Have fun being creative—we can’t wait to see how this artist inspires you! Tag us @ColbyMuseum on Facebook or Instagram using the hashtag #ArtAtHome, and we might share your creation with our followers.