Staying In The Fight

watercolor 18 x 22 inches
There is an underlying, ever present, persistent obstacle that clobbers plein air watercolor and acrylic painters.   It is the one thing that forces the watercolor painter to be on top of his or her game at all times during the painting process.  In fact it is so persistent and so unobtrusive that it will clobber the efforts of even the most experienced and advanced studio painter.
This obstacle . . .or this challenge (you might call it that) . . . is so in the face of the painter and so omnipresent that most painters are not even conscious of it.
Eh?  What??
When there is such a challenge as this, it calls into action the least fun of the painting skill set so that the urgency of the fight becomes the center of the painting process.  In other words, if the painter is not prepared to deal with this challenge, the painting will most often fail.   Well, if not fail, then it will not blossom into that glorious state of miraculous, wonderful outcome that makes us painters leap with excitement and thrills for having accomplished such a piece of work.
This challenge calls into the painting process A PLAN OF ACTION.   That plan must be present in the painter’s mind so that there is no . . . repeat: NONE. . . . hesitancy in the act of painting.   The painter must know how, exactly he or she is going to paint each part of the painting . . . .from color choices, to value assignments, to the order of what gets painted first, to management of edges and that plan must be executed with speed . . . .or shall I say with urgency.
Yikes!  What do you mean, Mike?   What is this ornery challenge that takes the joy away from a lingering form of meditative bliss that we studio painters enjoy so much?
In the outdoors, there are a few things that can wallop a painter before he begins . . . sunlight being one of those.   While we painters all LOVE the sun and what it does with light and shadow, being in the direct sun will spoil a painting very quickly.  It bakes the paint.   AND . . . . .it really changes how we perceive color and value . . . . especially when that paper is pure white and the light from the sun is reflecting back into our eyes and causing our vision to actually diminish from the glare.
But that isn’t it.   It certainly deserves attention . . . like getting the painting into the shade . . .under a tree or umbrella or just out of the direct sun.
What I am speaking of here is the rapid, almost imperceptible speed of evaporation that exists when painting outdoors.   Yep.  That’s what I am talking about:  Drying time.
A great wash requires that the wash remain wet for a period of time so that the fluid can slide down the face of the paper and remain wet so that it dries uniformly.   If the paint dries so fast that the brush cannot complete laying down the wash before the beginning of the wash dries, then the painter is in a fight to insure that his painting isn’t baked before he completes it.
When we are confronted with fast drying time there is no time to step back and make those long considered decisions that form the core of that meditative state we painters all love so much.   The painter must act so that his work is staying ahead of the paint drying too rapidly.  Otherwise, there will be hard nasty edges all over the work . . .in places that they aren’t wanted.
The solution is to spend some of that meditative bliss in the preparation to paint.   Do a few good value sketches.   Become familiar with the subject.   Plan where edges need to be soft or where transitions need to occur by having the colors mingle and blur.   Know ahead of time the order in which the big shapes will be painted and when you intend to charge in another color before a wash dries.   Have the composition drawn out so that there is no room or time for retreats.   Hot dry days do not allow for these decisions to be made on the fly.   They have to be planned so that the painter is always ahead of the paint drying and is in a position to manipulate the paint while it is wet.
Mixing colors and mindlessly stirring them around in the palette is a waste of valuable time.  one must be decisive and must be willing to stand by those decisions without consideration and mental debate.   In short, the painter must act with deliberate certainty.   Serve up the color, put down the stroke and live with the result.  The only way that can happen is to have a very solid plan ahead of time.   It is sort of like knowing when to swing the bat when the pitch is delivered . . . there is no time to think . . .just react.
The painting above was done en plein air in France on a very hot day.   The only available shady place actually dictated what subjects there were to choose from.  Once in the shady place, I fiddled with different compositional alternatives in a sketch book.  Then I nailed down a few solid value studies so that I knew exactly where my lights, mediums and darks would be and when they would be painted.  It was so hot that afternoon that my plan to charge in cerulean blue into a sky wash of yellow ochre was immediately thwarted because the ochre dried before I finished laying it in.  I couldn’t get cerulean blue on the brush fast enough to catch the ochre before it was dry.  Then and there, I realized that I had to act fast and execute my plan with dispatch!   I had to speed up.   The entire painting was finished in around 45 minutes (including planning time!).  And during that time I was conscious of nothing else but what was happening on the surface of the paper.   I had to stay in the fight against drying time for the duration!
Part of the charm of a great watercolor painting is that it appears to have been painted with startling urgency . . . and that it remains “fresh.”   That is that the paint doesn’t appear to have been fussed over and there was a clarity of purpose by the artist.   The only way to get that is to P L A N.
I stress this too in studio painting instruction.   Planning is the center piece of excellence in watercolor painting and, in particular, in painting outside.

“That’s the Way it Was. It was THERE!”

“Pont Valentre”
watercolor 15 x 22 inches
Ever since first seeing this fortified medieval bridge for the first time, I have wanted to paint it.   There is something stirring about the vision of this amazingly old structure, built in 1350 AD, standing over the Lot River in Cahors, France!   It is the last standing fortified bridge of this age in Europe.  
History aside, the painting challenges presented by this structure and the river would entertain any painter . . . accomplished or otherwise.   There were, originally, three towers on the bridge . . .one at each end and one in mid river.   Should the artist paint the whole bridge?   I mean “one must paint what one sees, correct?”   I don’t think so.   After all, whether the viewer of the painting has or has not seen the actual location, the viewer is still confronted with all the vagaries of the painting itself:   There must be a strong composition.  Dark and light shapes must be considered and how they are placed inside the picture plane is what holds a viewer’s attention.   It doesn’t matter if the correct colors are used . . . .or if all the bricks and limestone blocks show up or not . . . .It really doesn’t matter if the details, like the shapes of the windows in the towers, are shown.   It boils down to the composition.   Yes, reflections and that sort of thing make the painting entertaining, but, if one really looks beyond naming aspects of the picture, those reflections are still part of the light / dark arrangement of shapes in the picture plane.
So, I omitted the mid span tower.   Why?   Well, it served the composition better to omit it.
Then, someone will remark about the ripples in the water . . . . .Originally, those ripples didn’t exist in the painting.   It was originally set to show the water as a flat mirroring plane.   But, alas, the eye fell right out of the picture as those long reflections led the viewer straight down and out.   As we read left to right, there was nothing to halt the eye from wandering off the page to the right side.   So, the ripples were put in to break up those straight verticals.   And they were sloped upward, as they moved to the right, to slow the eye and to hold the eye in the picture.
Trickery, you say?   I suppose you could even say “cheap tricks.”   Fact is that the artist must resort to these sort of design considerations in every painting he or she makes . . . .even if it doesn’t look like what’s there.   The artist’s job is to make well designed paintings . . . .not a photograph using paint.   Just because it was “there” doesn’t mean that it needs to be painted

A Painting Trip to Southern France !!!

Domaine Haut Baran
Our Quarters for Ten Glorious Days

Lavendar and Poppies
Location: Southern France
Oh My Goodness !!! I almost forgot to post this great upcoming event here!! I am soooo excited to be taking a group of 15 painters (and non painters) to this great location near Toulouse, France that my head has been in the clouds over it !!!
June 28 to July 8, 2012, we will be smack in the rural countryside of the Perigord region of France, which will be saturated with blooming Lavender fields and blooming sunflower fields! Yikes! The color!! The aromas!! The rolling countryside in this region is simply, to put it mildly, beautiful! And the foods . . . . . !!! OMG !! Can you imagine fresh, warm Croissants with your morning coffee every morning? Can you picture you and your friends at a long dinner table being served the finest French cuisines by your hosts . . . .and . . . . .the laughter and chatter about the day’s adventures? Can you? And what about (perhaps) standing up to your hips in wild flowers painting the fields and and local chateaus? Sound romantic ?
We will also have a studio in which to paint and a fine villa in which to stay (see photo above) while being hosted by a charming couple. The lodgings are tip top quality and quite reflective of the surrounding region’s culture and heritage. There will be side trips during the ten days to ancient villages where you can shop, sight see and snack / dine on the local fare. Wines? Of course! Fromages? Bien Sur!!
My fantastic wife, Diana, and I have taken groups to Europe four times before this. We are most excited to be able to host both painters and non painters at this fabulous place. If you have never met Diana, you are in for a treat! She is lively and full of mischief and fun. She’ll keep us giggling for much of the trip, I promise!
Interested? Know someone who might be interested ? Check more out at Domaine Haut Baran. There are lots of pictures and loads of information there to drink in and arouse your senses. If you are interested in learning more you can email me at I will answer all your questions, including the most important one of price, and be able to put you in touch with our hosts so you can explore the possibilities directly with them.
Looking forward to hearing from you!

Chasing the Perigord

“A Place for a Picnic”
watercolor on paper, 15″ x 11″

“A Roll in the Hay”
(whaddya mean, ‘corny?’)
watercolor on paper, 11″ x 15″
The Perigord, as it is called, is a region in the south west part of France along the Dordogne River. The area is a delight to any who would be interested in history ranging from Cro-Magnon man to the hundred years war to ancient markets, bizarre chateaus and citadels to the growing and harvesting of truffles, ducks, geese and other delights . . . . . . . not to mention some of the finest wine in the world.

I just returned from a stay in that region beginning with Bordeaux and its beautiful surroundings. Residing out in the countryside, near the small bastide village of Eymet, our mornings were filled with sights of enormous fields of sunflowers, rolling hills and lots and lots of vineyards laden with grapes waiting for the coming ‘crush.’ Each little village in the area reeked of history and age and was turned out with all the French charm anyone could hope for.

Armed with camera, sketch book, pochade box, watercolors and every art supply known to man, I chased the perfect painting for three weeks. Trekking about with a number of other artists and good friends we gobbled up the sights and tasted the repasts of the region as though we had been starving and deprived most of our lives. To say that the food was wonderful would be understating the obvious. To say there was just too much to absorb in the way of visual stimulation and historical information would also be an understatement. But we did it anyway!

Just outside the door to my quarters were fields of rolled hay set against more fields rife with sunflowers. The light changed as quickly as my wristwatch changed time. We had clouds and skies that were more than worthy as a singular subject to back up all the gorgeous rural scenery. I gotta say that it was really, really tuff to handle! (read with sarcasm).

Here are a few hurried attempts at watercolor plein air painting that represent the sort of ‘ugliness’ we had to endure. To make matters worse, our feeble efforts at attempting to harness the beauty there on canvas or paper were rewarded nightly with wine and dinners most people would sacrifice a family member in order to partake. Yup! It was fabulous!!! (Except, now I have to redouble my exercises to de-expand my svelte self, if you get my drift.)

More about it later, But for now take the glimpse of the few painting attempts I brought back and try to imagine yourself enduring this form of hideous torture. Life is just toooo good, sometimes, folks. And I really do mean too good!!!!



As you may already know, I am hosting a group of painters (and non painters) in France at the end of this month August 27 through September 7.

Until last week, we had a full complement of people signed up, paid for and ready to go. One couple, however, sustained sudden health issues and will not be able to take their place on this wonderful trip to Southern France. Their cost was $7000. Unfortunately, that cost cannot be refunded due to their late cancellation.

They are offering their place for half price, $3500, not including airfare. This price includes all breakfasts and dinners, comfortable, quaint French Country (impeccably decorated) quarters for 13 nights and all your ground transportation, all at half price.

If you would be interested in exploring this great bargain, please email me directly at Time is of the essence!!

More can be learned at the following link; Petit Rousset

Browse through the above website and discover the fabulous accommodations and some of our itinerary / adventure. The Perigord is wonderfully picturesque region with tons of history dating back to cave dwelling painters, the hundred years war, the impressionist and more. We will be in the heart of wine country and will be doing some wine exploring, also.

If your mate is not a painter . . . or, even if you are not, don’t hesitate. Non painters have a ball on this trip as there are day trips almost daily. The food, too, is absolutely wonderful . . . . not to mention the great companionship and fun.

First come first served. Don’t delay. This is a once in a decade bargain !

Only a Few Left . . . .

“Tournasol Space”
watercolor on paper 30″ x 22″
I recently discovered that my computer was messing up and I was only getting about 20% of the emails sent to
So . . . .in case you, or someone else, wrote to me about the upcoming painting workshop in the Perigord Region of France (with me) . . . .the problem is fixed . . . .but I apologize if I didn’t answer. A recent computer crash and subsequent recovery with a new computer revealed this disturbing fact.
On the other hand, if 13 days and nites in a semi rural, 17th century farmhouse (with all the comforts and charm) and painting (or not!) through the region sounds appealing, drop me a note and I’ll get you the info you need to check it out. The dates are August 27 thru Sept 7 . . . .and we will be arriving as the sunflowers begin to fade. So there will be color everywhere . . . .and wineries . . . .and open markets . . . .and amazing food . . . and terrific companions!
By the way . . . the painting above is exactly what it looks like there. Whaddyathink? eh? 🙂
Oh, I almost forgot! If you were with us on the trip last year . . . .leave a comment about it here for others to see.
I have but a few spots left available (no kidding!), so don’t delay! Drop me a note at the above email address.


A Typical Market Day in The Perigord Region of France

Le Petit Rousset . . . a 17th century farm house located near Eymet, France will be our headquarters.


Experience the genteel and relaxed life in the Perigord region of France (Near Bordeaux), with Mike Bailey and friends, late this summer when the tourists vacate the area.

There is room for but 12 more people to share in the delights of this magnificent country side. We will be painting and touring almost daily for the entire time through one of France’s premier areas which offer gorgeous vistas, medieval castles and villages, wineries, shopping and a cuisine that will arrest most anyones’ attention. We welcome non painters, too! Because we are off on small day junkets nearly every day, the non painters find much to entertain themselves while we remain slaves to our pigments and paper. Evenings at the 17th century farmhouse are filled with good wine, laughter, art discussions and plenty of comraderie to post this trip into your eternal memory books.

Here is a link where you will see more details of where we will be and our itinerary. On this same site are photos of the charming and comfortable accomodations. Most meals, save for a few lunches, are provided as well as ground transportation. Leave your concerns at home! We handle all those little details that cloud otherwise perfect vacations.

If you would like to join us, or learn more about the trip, let me know immediately via email (click on small envelope below) as we are accepting deposits now.

Busy Week!

“Bistro Provencal”
watercolor on Arches paper, 15″ x 22″
Life does get in the way once in a while . . . . as it should, I suppose.
I have had my head in the clouds for six months with painting . . . a wonderful state to be in, by the way. My real estate business is calling to me, so I must respond . . . . . .the teaching term has begun, which will keep my mind in another place until it is is finished . . . . . .then there is another matter, to which I must pay attention.
My watercolor work has been accepted in the most prestigious watercolor show, if not in the world, the USA. The painting was sent off last week to New York . . . .but this also means I cannot turn away from watercolor . . . .for many reasons, I must answer the call to get into next year’s show, also. This means intensive work and study in order to have a selection of pieces from which to choose next November. So, this piece is a limbering up exercise. . . . a new beginning, if you will. I have much work to do between now and November . . . . and am keeping my fingers crossed that I can rise to the occaison then.
If it can be done, I will be pushing oils as well, but may not be posting as often as I would like. Keep watching. There are surprises waiting for you and for me.
PS . . . .Am not sure that this painting is properly color adjusted. Am using a very hi contrast monitor today, so the color may be incorrect. Will check later when I have my usual monitor at my disposal.
PPS . . . there is a glitch in the space formatting today . . .Have had this trouble before, but cannot resolve it. Sorry for the compressed paragraphs.

Color Schemes

“Silvi’s Little Patch”
oil on linen, 8″ x 12″

The time has finally come to begin playing around with some design alternatives. This time, I chose to set up a color scheme completely unlike that which was on my photo. (I don’t like working from photos, but this was a scene in the Perigord Region in France last Summer which has haunted me). So . . . .we were talking about color . . .My photo is all brilliant green. And green doesn’t sell . . .or so they say . . . . . . .

I chose to set up a yellow dominance and work with an analogous color scheme, rather than be enslaved to what was before me. Mind you, there is a good deal of creativity that comes into play to do this. For example, where do we put the less intense colors and where put the most intense? It is a choice, but when it is done, the entire design must reflect and support that choice. This time, there was a lot of niggling happening before the piece was completed. Translation: overworked. but Hey!, ya gotta step out of the rut now and then, right?

Actually, I have a vision for the sort of paintings I want to create . . . .with emphasis on ‘create’ . . . . .and most of my work up to now has been to build practice with technique and medium. As I get more comfy with it, I will play around with some different design alternatives.

Back to the color thing . . . . . .I should possibly have chosen red or orange or, even blue! Yellow has the least options when it comes to value and can become pretty yucky fast if you aren’t somewhat familiar with the color wheel. I have to admit I struggled with this one. I spent all day (almost) with it yesterday and about an hour tweaking it this morning. . . . which tells me I have much more work to do. So, I’ll dig in again and again. Color schemes are a great way to do something unusual and captivating versus ‘just another picture.’ Expect to see more from time to time.

More French Characters

“Fromage Anyone?”
oil on linen panel, 8″ x 10″
Today was nice, but not as spontaneous as the last few paintings. Not sure why. Maybe, I am naming THINGS (like shirt, shelf, cheese, sign, sleeve, nose, etc) instead of painting shapes of color and value.
Oh well . . .! It was better than working! 😉
This guy was famous on our trip to France last summer. He was notorious for holding his knife at the point where the customer said to cut a wedge off the side of a cheese slab . . . then, just as he was moving into the downstroke with the knife, he would move it so the wedge was larger than the customer wanted. At 45 Euros per kg, that isn’t a casual slip of the knife . . . .that translates to $30 per pound!
I couldn’t resist his face, though. He even looks a little rougue-ish, don’t you think? 🙂
Maybe if I sell this painting, it’ll make up for the cheese I purchased from him! heh heh !! 😉