Monday, September 29, 2014

Two New Studies in Watercolor

"Behind The Curtain" is a mixed-media study for an upcoming exhibition featuring dancers. I started with a wash of watercolor, followed by a charcoal and pastel drawing of the figure. I let the watercolor serve as the background and also peak through areas of the figure and her clothing.

This watercolor study is from a 3-hour pose at figure session. The model was a very young girl who was a bit wiggly throughout the session. It made for some very interesting paintings and drawings that night!

Monday, September 22, 2014

A Demo And A Study

I gave a painting demo for the Beaver Valley Arists in New Brighton, Pa last week. It was an hour and a half demo, which did not give me enough time to finish. I worked on it another half hour the next morning and this is the finished painting.

Below is a watercolor color study from the weekly figure session I attend. It was a 3-hour pose, which works out to about 2 1/2 hours of painting. I spent the first hour sketching with pencil and the final 1 1/2 hours painting.

Monday, September 15, 2014

More Watercolor Figure Studies

Here are a few more watercolor studies from the Long-Pose figure sessions at Panza Gallery. We work from one pose for the entire three-hour session. Both studies were done in watercolor using a very limited palette of three colors each.

Monday, September 8, 2014

"Mettle", step-by-step of a painting

Taking a painting from initial concept to finished artwork takes many steps for me. Below is the condensed, step-by-step process.

Steps One and Two
I start with small, black-and-white thumbnail sketches so that I can view the impact of the design. Once I select my design and format, I proceed to 5x7" color studies to find my palette. 

Thumbnail sketches and color studies. I settled on a primary color 
palette of Red, Yellow and Blue (right), with Yellow as the dominant 
color, Blue as the secondary, and Red as a discord (or accent) color.


Step Three
When I am planning a large painting, I will often do a smaller one to work out areas I am unsure of. Below is a 19 x 13" painting that is headed for the recycling bin. I worked and re-worked areas until I had a design that I liked.

19 x 13"c color study

Steps Four to Six
The final painting is 29 x 19" (30 x 29" after framing). I made a few design changes in the drawing then started with loose washes in the background.

I continue coming forward from the background, covering big areas. I try to keep the background looser, saving the details for the foreground and figure.

I work my way down the painting, often referring to my original color study for guidance.

Step 7
Finished up the details in the foreground, made a few changes to the background, and it's done!

Mettle, 33 x 23", watercolor

Monday, September 1, 2014

Quick Color Mixing Tutorial, part 2

Last week I demonstrated mixing color on the palette versus directly on our paper. This week I will show dropping in (or charging) and glazing.

Dropping In
Dropping in color, or “charging” as it is sometimes called, is similar to mixing on paper except that, instead of brushing the second color next to the first, you drop your second color right into the first color while it is wet. This extra pigment results in an exciting mix of color and edges.
Try it:
Select two colors. Paint a swatch of your first color on dry or wet paper. While it is still wet, add a loaded brush of your second color. Watch as the heavier of the two colors pushes the other color around. Experiment with different ratios of water and paint. 

Permanent rose dropped into
ultramarine blue.

Glazing Color
Glazing refers to layering washes of transparent color over dry paint. Only use transparent paint for the glazing.

Try it:
Paint of swatch of your first color (either transparent or opaque) and let it dry completely. Gently paint a thin wash of transparent color over the first. Vigorous brushing can disturb the bottom layers of your glaze, and, if you add too many layers, the effect can look muddy. 

A glaze of ultramarine blue added
over permanent rose.

This is an excerpt from my book, "Watercolor Made Easy: Portraits", available at most major bookstores and Walter Foster Publishing.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Quick Color Mixing Tutorial, part 1

Watercolor is such an exciting medium to use because of its wonderful versatility. It can be controlled and precise or spontaneous and fluid, depending on how you apply the color.

Palette vs. Paper
Mixing your colors on the palette gives you more control and a consistent color. On the other hand, letting the colors mix directly on the paper allows the colors to mingle and mix in a random manner. You have less control, but the end result is more dynamic. 
Try it: 
Select two colors. Below I've chosen phthalo blue and raw sienna. First, mix your colors on your palette and paint a swatch on your wet or dry paper. 
Phthalo blue and raw sienna mixed
on a palette.

In a different area, wet a swatch of your paper and add one color. Then, while still wet, add the second color by brushing along the edge of the first. Watch the colors mix and mingle. Try moving them by tilting your paper in different directions.

Raw sienna and phthalo blue 
mixed directly on the paper.

Next week I will demonstrate dropping in and glazing color. Stay tuned!

This is an excerpt from "Watercolor Made Easy: Portrait". Available an most major bookstores and through Walter Foster Publishing.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Watercolor Figure Studies

Monday night Long-Pose figure sessions at Panza Gallery are the best. They are three-hours long with model breaks every 20 minutes or so. Having a model who can get back into the same pose after each break and hold it for the whole session makes all the difference in the world when you are working in watercolor. 

Below are two watercolor studies from the last two weeks. The top image is painted in Burnt umber over a light pencil drawing. The bottom is Burnt umber and Ultramarine blue over a light wash of Cerulean blue and pencil drawing.

Watercolor study, 10 x 15"

Amber, watercolor, 11 x 13"

Monday, August 11, 2014

New Watercolor "Mei Hu"

This is a watercolor demo from one of my workshops. I titled it Mei Hu, which means plum tiger.

Funny story, I showed this demo in a recent workshop and one of my students pulled out a photo of the exact same woman, who lives somewhere in San Francisco's Chinatown district. Neither one of us know her; we just happened to be in SF separately and we both took her photo.

Original photo taken in San Francisco's
Chinatown district.

Drawing from the busy signage behind the figure, but I decided to paint shapes and values instead of specific details. This creates a suggested, but not specific, location and lets the figure come forward as the focal point. I cropped to a horizontal format because her expression was what drew me to her in the first place.

My color triad is blue violet, red orange and yellow green, with the dominant color being blue violet. All my colors were mixed from eight colors: Phthaylo blue, Ultramarine blue, Raw sienna, Bismuth yellow, Quinacridone violet, Quinacridone Rose, Maroon Perylene, and Sepia.

"Mei Hu", watercolor, 19 x 15" (before framing)

Monday, August 4, 2014

What Kind of Watercolor Brushes Should You Choose?

Maddening, isn't it? There are hundreds of watercolor brushes available in an endless variety of sizes, shapes, and materials. What's a beginning artist to do?

I have over 50 watercolor brushes of various sizes and shapes that I've experimented with over the years. In reality, I only use about eight of them regularly. For beginning students, I recommend trying out a few different sizes of inexpensive brushes before investing in more expensive ones. Soon you'll find yourself reaching for certain brushes over and over and you’ll know which ones to upgrade.

Here's the  basic low down in case you are just starting out. Brushes have natural or synthetic bristles, or a combination of the two. 

Natural bristles consisting of sable, kolinsky (also known as red sable), or squirrel hair are soft and pliable. By holding more water and paint than synthetic bristles, natural ones allow you to work longer without interrupting your work to reload your brush. For that very reason, my two favorite brushes are my medium and small kolinsky round brushes. 

*Note: Because natural brushes use the hair of animals for their brushes, I spent some time researching ethical animal practices before choosing my supplier, Rosemary brushes.

Synthetic bristles are made of man-made materials and are durable and less expensive than natural bristles. They also tend to make good “scrubbers" and "lifters", allowing you to remove paint. (I also use a few small oil brushes for scrubbing and lifting.)


Medium and large round brushes are by far the most versatile. Depending on how much pressure you apply, you can make wide to thin brushstrokes.

Small round brushes are useful for making very fine brushstrokes, such as for hair or eyelashes.

Flat brushes make nice, wide strokes and are great for backgrounds and large areas. 

Oval brushes can make wide strokes or, turned sideways, very thin ones.

To care for your brushes, clean them with lukewarm water and reshape with your fingers after each painting session. Never leave them sitting in water or the bristles will lose their shape and ability to maintain a point. I lay clean brushes upside down on paper towels on my drafting table, which has a slight downward slant, to let the water run out.

Below are some of the brushes I use regularly:


    1              2           3       4       5     6     7       8      9       10

1. 2" flat sable
2. 1½" flat sable 
3. Size 40 round synthetic
4. Size 11 round kolinsky
5. Size 8 round kolinsky
6. Size 4 round kolinsky
7. Size 1 round kolinsky 8. 1" Cat's Tongue (or oval) synthetic 
9. Size 10 synthetic
10. Size 2 bright oil painting brush

This is an excerpt from my book, "Watercolor Made Easy: Portraits", available at Walter Foster Publishing, Amazon, or Barnes & Nobles.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Latest watercolor painting "Yard Sale"

I finished up my watercolor study. This painting is a prelude to a larger painting, 22 x 30". Working on this smaller study gave me the opportunity to make decisions about shape, value, color, and background.

The title of the painting has changed four times already!

Yard Sale, 19 x13", watercolor

detail of Yard Sale

Monday, July 21, 2014

Watercolor Workshop "Going Beyond A Likeness", Part Two

Part two of the watercolor workshop: students use their thumbnail sketches and color studies from the previous week and start their larger painting. In last week's post, I showed you my value sketch and three color studies for a new painting. I decided to try a fourth color study (below) using primary colors Red, Blue, Yellow. This color combo is what I am going to use to develop my painting..

We started off the morning by reviewing and discussing what we did the week before. I proceeded to show the students how I would use the value and color studies to guide me as I paint my full-size painting. However, because my full-size painting is going to be rather large, 28 x 32", I decided to work on a smaller version for the workshop demo. In preparation for a large painting, I will sometimes paint a smaller version as a study to work out the difficult parts.

The color scheme for this painting is Primary Colors - Red, Yellow, and Blue, with blue being the dominant color. I mixed all of my colors using two reds, one yellow and three blues from my palette, plus a few neutrals. This gives the painting a color harmony I wouldn't easily achieve with selecting random colors.

Below is the larger painting, as it progresses. I will post the finished result next week.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Watercolor Workshop "Going Beyond a Likeness", Part One

I am currently teaching a two-part watercolor workshop at McMurray Art League, in Pittsburgh Pa, called "Going Beyond A Likeness". 

Part one is all about planning. We started out discussing our reference material and why we chose it. We asked ourselves some questions, including "Is it interesting?" and "Can it tell a story, evoke a mood or elicit an emotion?" It is more important to know why you are painting something than what you are painting.

We progressed to value studies (below, top row), which are very small, quick sketches to help us identify our focal point and whether we have a variety of values and sizes, movement and best of all, impact. In other words, if this were a finished painting and someone viewed it from across the room, would they feel compelled to come over and look closer? The value sketches are not exactly fun stuff, but they are a very helpful step when composing a painting. 

Now we've come to the fun part! Once we've chosen a value sketch, we progressed to color studies. Each study is small, approximately 5 x 7". Using our Triadic Color Wheel as a guide, we selected several harmonious color combinations and painted 2-3 mini paintings. To break the students out of their tendency to use the same colors over and over, they were encouraged to try new color combinations. 

Above you can see three color studies I demonstrated (from left):
1. Analogous + Complement: blue, blue green, green with a complement of red orange
2. Tertiary: red violet, yellow orange, and blue green
3. Tertiary: yellow green, red orange, and blue violet

Analogous colors are colors which are side-by-side on the color wheel. Complements are two colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel. Tertiary colors are equidistant on the color wheel.

I'd like to know, do you use color studies and value sketches in your work? If not, what do you do to plan your painting?

Monday, July 7, 2014

Fall Watercolor Workshops

It's not too early to schedule your fall watercolor workshops! 

I have two workshops scheduled for September and October: A 2-day workshop in Butler, Pa and a 3-day workshop in Charlotte, NC. 

Click the link below for details and links to registration.



Monday, June 30, 2014

Framing Dilemmas

Framing my watercolor paintings has been a vexing subject for me for the past five years. Because I exhibit my work in a variety of different settings, I have often had to switch out paintings from one frame to the other, depending on the venue. A high-end gallery show may want fancy, wooden frames and museum-quality glass. A national watercolor exhibition may insist on neutral mats and frames, and acrylic instead of glass. Aside from the obvious cost, it is just plain time consuming, and my paintings risk damage by continually removing them from the frames.

I needed to find a consistent framing solution that would fit all the various venues and exhibitions in which I might show my work.

1. Find frames that look clean and contemporary enough for
    watercolor exhibitions, but high-end enough for many
    of the galleries that prefer more ornate frames. 

2. Find a glass/acrylic solution that allows me to ship artwork,
    but also have a museum-quality look and feel to it.

3. Find a matting solution that is consistent and looks clean,
    contemporary, and high end.

4. Keep costs to a minimum without sacrificing quality.

1. Frames - Instead of using ornate, wooden frames for one venue and simple, metal frames for another, I decided to merge the two. I found a company that carries beautiful wooden frames that have clean, contemporary lines and neutral colors, but with a little texture and design that would also fit a high-end gallery setting.

2. Glass vs. Acrylic - Voila! I just discovered TruVue Optium Museum Acrylic. Because it is acrylic, it won't shatter during shipping, yet it doesn't have the pitfalls of standard acrylic. For one, it doesn't look like acrylic; it looks like museum-quality glass. It is also glare and scratch resistant and 99% UV protective. One downside is the very high cost (see #4 Solution).

3. Matting - I know several watercolor artists who show the edges of their watercolor paper, and I've always liked the way it looks. I've tried different variations and came up with two that I like. 

This is my favorite way to frame a watercolor. I paint right 
up to the deckled edge of the paper and float the painting 
inside an off-white mat, leaving about a 1/2" space.

Another way to use the decked edge is to tape the w/c paper
about 1" from the edge and paint up to the tape. When you
remove the tape, it leaves a nice, clean white border. 

4. Cost - I have two trusty, full-service framers who both do beautiful framing. Normally, I would take my artwork to them. In a financial pinch, however, I have found that I can cut my framing costs in half by going to a local wholesale frame company and putting the frame together myself. Example: The museum-quality acrylic was quoted at $500 for a 30 x 36" piece! I was able to get it from a wholesaler at $260. That price difference benefits both me and my client, as it allows me to offer them a discount.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Art of Watercolour magazine

I was honored to have a full-page article about my work in this month's issue of The Art of Watercolour magazine. The magazine is the English version of the French magazine l'Art de l'Aquarelle and features watercolor artists from around the world.