Free demo Saturday, June 10

Want to achieve predictable results in watercolor? Believe it or not, it is possible! Join me for a free demo from 12:00 – 1:30 PM on Saturday, June 1o, 2017 at the Bellevue location of Daniel Smith Artist Materials.

I’ll be showing exercises that can jump-start your mastery of the colors you already use, and how to integrate new colors into your palette. We’ll talk about how certain pigments are “shy” and others are more gregarious (yes, colors have personality!)

Other topics I’ll touch on are painting with intention, embracing where you’re at on your watercolor journey, and how take intimidation out of the 10,000 hour rule. If you missed this in February, I hope to see you there!

Creating a road map

Painting a busy, colorful street scene can seem overwhelming, but some time spent on planning can take some of the intimidation away. In this photo of Post Alley in Seattle, bright colors and café tables create a welcoming yet visually challenging scene. There are a number of ways to simplify it.

If you’re comfortable with Photoshop or have a drawing program on your tablet, you can remove elements digitally. Here, I got rid of the clutter in the lower right; unified the seperate planters into one mass, and darkened the upper right corner to take attention away from the background buildings. A few other unimportant details have been eliminated.

Next, I printed out a black & white copy. The lack of color really highlights the pattern of lights and darks. As you can see, there is no real focus to the image, so I want to create a trail of light that will lead the eye through the painting and return us to the seating area. A few minutes with a pencil gives me a (mostly) two-value study and a clear indication of where the lightest areas and brightest colors will be:

With this at my side as I paint, I’ll have a reminder of what areas to de-emphasize with darker values or more muted colors. Next, I’ll do some quick studies to determine the color palette…

“What if”…working from reference photos

Reference photos are a critical source of inspiration for many artists. After all, not all subjects lend themselves to painting from life, or we may see a scene in passing that we just have to capture.

When working with reference photos, it’s easy to get frustrated or overwhelmed. The temptation is to paint exactly what we see in the image before us, even if that doesn’t support what we want to say with our painting. But wait, let’s back up a step – do you even know what you want to say? So often, we look at a photo and say, “oh, that’s pretty/cute/colorful, I think I’ll paint it.”

Spending a few moments thinking about the “why” of a painting can take a painting from “nice” to “fabulous” – and don’t we all want that?! Knowing that you want to capture the bigness of the sky; the memory of a treasured moment, the unique energy of a child, or an expression of intimacy will help guide every other decision we make in the development of a painting.

The subject in Summer’s End, the painting at the beginning of the post, is an older farm on a busy road, and I’ve always been intrigued by how peaceful it looks, and how well it nestles into its setting. By going vertical, I could play up the relative smallness of the buildings against a vast summer sky. While the photo was taken in the midst of summer, bringing in hints of fall color allowed for more variation in colors, and helped the rusty barn roof blend into the scene.

Asking “what if” as you develop your painting is a great way to discover the focal point, determine what stays or goes, and zero in on a color palette. In the photo at right, Post Alley in Seattle is a vibrant, colorful place, and Kells Irish Pub has created an inviting spot to sit and soak it all in. As a reference, it’s incredibly overwhelming! While the orientation is great, and the shadows on the wall give the eye a welcome resting place, the rest of it is all fussy details.

So…what if most of the chairs and tables were eliminated, along with the post & chairs in the lower right? What if the buildings in the background were stripped of details, and were rendered as soft blends of muted color? What if the plantings and their containers were simplified into a single mass and a wide planter? What if the windows above the awning didn’t have the distracting curves of the lights interfering with their shapes?

Working through those ideas quickly on my tablet, it’s clear that simplifying the outlying elements will put more of the focus on the middle ground elements that will pull you deeper into the alley, and have you wanting to take a seat at one of the tables. I’ll also make sure to work in a limited base palette to keep all of the elements unified, popping in brighter hues for the wind socks, awning and planter baskets. The door will get richer red colors as well to enfold the seating area in warmth and color.

Experimenting with an Appaloosa’s spots

The subject of this painting is a “leopard” Appaloosa with an amazing array of spots over its entire body. Painting the form of the horse was pretty easy, but those spots are something else! While the urge was strong to just dive in and start painting blotches, I didn’t want to mess up a good start. So, I pulled out the patience and a piece of scrap paper and began to experiment with different options. And wow, am I glad I did!

My initial thought was to use a dark, sedimentary color like Hematite or Sepia. Nope, both turned too brown. Surprisingly, Van Dyck Brown (VDB) mixed with French Ultramarine into a deep, rich dark that didn’t leave a brown edge. Payne’s Blue Gray (PBG) came into the mix, along with Cobalt Blue. Verditer Blue and Lunar Blue were tried and rejected, but Burnt Sienna made the cut.

Along with color, technique was a big part of the puzzle. Different attempts at wet-into-wet, wet-into-dry, spattering, and blurring edges all got a tryout.

In the end, I’ll use Cobalt and Burnt Sienna as a gray base, with VDB dropped in and French Ultramarine lightly splattered, then lifted for a random splotch. When nearly dry, VDB, PBG, French Ultramarine and a touch of Green Apatite Genuine will form the dark central spot. (The green will echo colors in the background.) Some of the edges will get pulled or blurred to add variety.

This was a great lesson in experimenting with materials before going straight to the painting. I definitely would have been unhappy with the results of the first 10 options, and probably would have given up on the painting in frustration!

“Hardened” revisited

Sometimes, “finished” means “done painting for now.” That turned out to be the case with this painting of a weathered padlock on a rusty gate. In the before painting at left, the colors are saturated and bright; the dirt and rust are nicely rendered, and the overall composition is pretty good. Do you see what it didn’t have? A shadow for the lock!

This piece had been signed, photographed and entered in two different shows – both of which it failed to be juried into. As I sat watching a slideshow of all of the pieces entered into one of those shows, the lack of shadow and contrast leaped off the (large) screen at me. So, back to the studio for a few relatively small adjustments.

With the addition of a darker value across the entire bottom third, including a shadow for the lock, the “floaty” feeling of the main subject has been fixed. I also darkened the shadow at the bottom right of the ring, so it ties into the deep shadow below the lock. The lesson? Don’t be afraid to look critically at a finished painting, and ask yourself if it is as strong as it could be. You may find yourself pulling the brushes out again…

The joy of the art retreat

Whether you call it art camp, paint-out or a retreat, there is nothing better for an artist’s soul than uninterrupted time to paint. I just returned from three days at the Samish Island Paint-out (offered through NWWS) and am amazed at what I was able to accomplish!

In addition to having time to work on your own paintings, it is invaluable to see what other artists are working on. At the beginning of Paint-out, it is a race to see who can get the first painting “on the wall.” Throughout the weekend, a gallery grows as we all put up our efforts.

Art retreats get a little competitive over who can put the most paintings up!

The other advantage of a group retreat is being able to walk around and see how others “do what they do.” While it’s important to respect artists who are in the zone, most are willing to chat about their approach, demo a technique, or even share a dollop of a favorite color.

With lots of time and plenty of space, a retreat is a great opportunity to work on larger paintings. This one I started is 11″ x 30″.

When selecting a retreat, ask artist friends for recommendations. Check out the facility’s website, and find out what comfort level the accomodations are. Lodging can range from spartan to spa-like.

Lodging can be pretty spartan, but a few comforts of home can make a space cozy!

Ask past attendees about the food, too! At the Samish Paint-out, a wonderful crew comes in and cooks for us. The food is delicious, and they’re always happy to provide alternate ingredients. Some retreats will be DIY, with attendees taking turns preparing meals.

Oh – bring plenty of art supplies! Many retreat venues are from shopping centers (that’s what makes them perfect). Now over to you: what words of wisdom (or happy stories) do you have about retreats?

Learning abstract principles

As an artist, it’s good to explore new subjects, mediums and techniques. In this case, abstract principles that can be used in future paintings.

If you’re at all familiar with my work, you know that representational art is my wheelhouse. Rendering detail is a joy to me; I find it somewhat meditative to get lost in the fine lines of a subject. That being said, a painting that is all detail can be exhausting to look at, and doesn’t invite the viewer to add their own thoughts to the story of an image. It’s much more interesting as an artist too, to create a painting that leaves people guessing a little. (And entertaining to hear what they think is happening!)

With this in mind, an ongoing goal of mine is to create more abstract moments in my paintings. Recently, I attended a 3-hour class given by Kristi Galindo Dyson, and hosted by the Mt. Si Artist Guild. Kristi’s presentation is great – I highly recommend her as an instructor. She lead us through a discussion on the elements of abstraction, including: personal mark making; intuition, experimentation, visual elements, style and design.

And then she turned us loose to paint…or scribble, or create texture, or…(click images to zoom)

Step 1: Just do something! The blank page-even a small one-is incredibly intimidating…

Kristi had samples of an art board by Arches for us to try, however she uses many different papers and boards. The watercolor board was a 4-ply thickness and had a smooth, or hot press, surface.

With a blended watercolor background, I started making marks with watercolor pencils.
At the end of 90 minutes, a board with lots of color, lots of marks, and an indication of a structure.

One of the topics Kristi touched on is how free children are when creating art-they are absolutely fearless in their expression. Before they learn rules of composition and the expectation of adults that their art “look like something,” kids will fill an entire page with color, scribbles, and surprising insights. While I didn’t get there in 90 minutes, it was good to hear that you need to allow your artistic mind some freedom once in a while!

A few final touches with a white pen help unify the piece. I liked the idea of representing a structure with the white marks, while not defining a specific building.

The finished piece reflects making marks, playing with color and texture, and looking for balance…all elements of my current practice, but expressed in a completely new way. It will serve as a great reminder to play once in a while…

Join me Saturday, February 11th

Want to achieve predictable results in watercolor? Believe it or not, it is possible! Join me for a free demo from 12:00 – 1:30 PM on Saturday, February 11, 2017 at the Bellevue location of Daniel Smith Artist Materials.

I’ll be showing exercises that can jump-start your mastery of the colors you already use, and how to integrate new colors into your palette. We’ll talk about how certain pigments are “shy” and others are more gregarious (yes, colors have personality!)

Other topics I’ll touch on are painting with intention, embracing where you’re at on your watercolor journey, and how take intimidation out of the 10,000 hour rule. Bring your questions, and a friend – I look forward to seeing you!

2/12/17 – Thank you so much to everyone that came out for the demo – it was a full house! One of the exercises I showed was getting to know a brand-new color, in this case, Payne’s Blue Grey.

First step is to do a simple square of water, dropping the color into one corner and dragging it out into the water. The goal is to see how the color settles out as it dries – some color will leave a subtle “aftertaste” of one of the pigments that make up the color. Next up was two-color blends, then a three-color blend. Click the thumbnail to see a larger image…


Replacing a paint color

In a limited palette of just twenty colors, each one needs to be a “go to” hue. While adding fresh paint recently, I realized that Chromium Green was virtually untouched. It’s a strong, neutral green, but has a milky look to it that doesn’t really fit the way I paint. So, out it goes. But what to put in its place?

Rooting through my tackle box yielded 6 candidates: Rare Green Earth, Undersea, Olive, Pthalo Yellow/Green, Cobalt Turquoise and Pthalo Turquoise.

Sure, turquoise isn’t really a green, but I’m allowed artistic license!

After doing quick paint swatches and lifting tests, I painted a series of blended strips. Each green stayed in the same location as on the test chart for easy reference. I wet a small rectangle, dropped in the green, then added one of six colors that are used frequently:

Everything mixed well with Transparent Red Oxide
Raw Sienna gave some muddier blends, although it tempered Pthalo Y/G beautifully.
Cadmium Orange was another winner, looking great with everything but Pthalo Turquoise.
At this point, with Van Dyck Brown, I knew Rare Green Earth (top left) was out – it’s a finicky color I would lose patience with…
Cobalt Blue looked great across the board, and I love the sky colors created when it mixed with Cobalt Turquoise!
The final, deciding color was Imperial Purple – it usually blends enthusiastically, but turned into a bit of a muddle with Undersea…

As you can see, Pthalo Turquoise dropped out pretty quickly. Almost identical to Cobalt Turquoise, it lacked the granulation Cobalt gave. Rare Green Earth was next to go. It’s very grey, which was interesting, but it likes to sit where you put it and needs lots of coaxing to move. Undersea would probably have a home in a larger palette.

Oh, if I only had three spaces instead of one!!

The finalists came down to three: Olive, Pthalo Y/G and Cobalt Turquoise. Olive will go into the “working stash” and be used for horsey browns. Cobalt Turquoise will replace Chromium Green, and Pthalo Y/G will replace either New Gamboge or Quinacridone Gold. (Another round of testing ahead!)

I’m a firm believer that the better you know your colors, the more likely you are to get predictable results in watercolor. This entire testing process took about 90 minutes, and was a great way to get to know these six greens.