Workshops . . .

“Sonoma Vineyard”
22×30 inches
The painting above is from a series of photos taken while on a visit to Sonoma, California to spend a weekend with a dear friend, Mr. Dick Cole. As you may know, Dick is a fabulous painter and is the President Emeritus of NWS. The reason for my visit last year was that I was taking on the presidency of that same organization. So, being the pals we are, Dick and I, and our wives, during that weekend, sat about drinking the fine wines of the area, sightseeing, dining at a great restaurant and generally shooting the breeze about the directions and my vision for NWS.
I hadn’t accounted for the fact that my workshop schedule might be impacted by taking on the presidency of such an august body as NWS, but it has, indeed. I am disappointed that I must follow a more limited schedule than usual. Because priorities dictated that my NWS 2011 schedule be set first, I could make only a few commitments for workshops. Now that the schedule has been decided, I am fortunate to report that I have but two to three available time slots for 2011.
If you know of an organization that is seeking a lively watercolor workshop instructor to bring design and composition to life for a group of enthusiastic painters, have the organization email me at
I am expecting to be on both coasts of the USA more than once this year, so give me a shout!
Meanwhile, I will be “suffering” (while living the dream) with brush in hand at lush locations, such as Sonoma or California’s central coast to make some excitement come to life on a piece of paper or canvas. Rough life!! 😉
An exciting year is ahead and I plan on being right in the thick of the excitement!

Rocks in My Head

“Rocks In My Head”
15 x 22 Inches, Watercolor

For as long as I can remember in my painting life, painting rocks and water has been an endless fascination. Reflections, currents, textures, shapes, and the contrasts between granite and fluid draw me into a state of which I cannot describe.

I remember the day well. I had risen from breakfast to go outdoors to paint. The weather was perfect. But where should I go? There was so much from which to choose. Then it struck: rocks in the river!!!!!! I couldn’t get to the car fast enough!!! It wasn’t long before my shoes were wet and I was assembling my easel as fast as my hands could move.

In reviewing the paintings made in Yosemite, this week, with a friend, I commented that I got the same overwhelming calm and simultaneous excitement when I was fishing at the edge of a small river or creek. I have experienced that feeling since I was a little boy and can remember well being at a certain spot when I was six years old picnicking with my parents.

Then there are the towering rocks of Yosemite. When I am there, they fill my dreams. And I like very much the sheer fun of painting bizarre designs from sketches and memory. In those paintings I allow myself the freedom to Play. While at creek side, however, I am swept up in all the dazzling light, the movement of the water and the glory of the fresh air and wildness of it all. It seems to me that I could no more shift into the ‘play’ mode there than to fly.

But put me into the studio without distractions . . . . .anything can happen . . . .and that is for another post.

Using Opaques with Watercolor

Watercolor, 22 x 15 inches

A few posts ago, I mentioned that I have been fooling around with opaques. Namely, I have been using gouache in addition to using the transparent pigments in the same painting. The opaques have been used separate from the transparents to provide a subtle contrast. For example, the tree in the foreground uses gouache in foliage. While this helps the foliage stand off the underlying colors and values, it also has the effect of making the tree advance in the space . . . .or seem as though it is standing freely in space.

In addition, the opaques are used in parts of the sky to lend the atmospheric effects and the effects of diffuse light. Obviously, there is much much more to learn with these pigments and the ideas are literally keeping me awake at night! That is the exciting part of being an artist! The newness never seems to wear off . . . . .there is excitement at every turn for me. Many of my blog readers know me and can vouch for my enthusiasm over painting. It seems just as boredom begins to lurk, some new idea comes up and springs me into action . . . .and then the energy kicks in and I am off and running to paint a bunch of new pieces.

The last several paintings on this blog have employed the use of opaques in a variety of places. Maybe you can see where. Or better yet, why not come by the studio this weekend to see, in person, the paintings. As you already know, it is open studio weekend join us!!!

Getting on the Horse

“Hobbie Horse Dreams”
Watercolor-18 x 24 inches
In a few days I am off to teach a workshop on composition. And I have not painted in a while. I am rusty . . .a little out of practice.
A few days ago (see last post) I went to the studio to ‘sling paint’ and loosen up. I did that and more . . .I started the above painting using a derivation of a shape I had used before in an abstract painting. I liked the shape, so, what the heck: Let’s build another abstract.
You might be thinking just have at it and see what comes, right? Nope! It is way bigger and more complex than that.
For me to do one of these takes days and often weeks. It is the best way I know of to get on the horse of painting again and put the brain into full gallup.
As I see it, any painting is about composing all the elements (line, size, shape, direction, color, value and texture) into a whole where the sum is greater than the parts. It is a process of choosing one or two large shapes and fitting them into the rectangular format in a pleasing way . . . . .but then the fun starts: Edges need to play off one another, textures need to be created, varied and changed yet be related in some way. Unity must be the result with contrasts and harmonies derived from all the parts: Hard vs soft, red vs green, dark vs light, etc. Value transitions and movements must be created in order to lead the eye on a path through the painting.
My rule is never do the same thing twice. For example, I may use a teal color (three times in this painting) but I force variation in each repetition. There are two small teal shapes and one teal line. One of the shapes has been lightened and made opaque while another is textured over with a tone . . . .so you see the teal shape, but know immediately it is different. The kicker is to drill one’s self to make each mark feel as though it has ‘membership’ or belongs to the others. When that is done well, interest rises.
I will grant that someone there in cyber land won’t like this painting. Maybe someone will say it is tooooo much! Too contrasty or too dark or too edgy or too something. That is okay by me. Every painting, successful or not, is a learning trial. That is to say, if the artist goes about making art via continuous experimentation and exploration to see what will happen . . . . .eventually that artist will excel at his or her art and most likely pass other established artists.
The trick is to get on the horse and ride like the wind. Put the spurs on and go as fast and as hard as one is able. The cool thing about getting on is this: If you fall off this horse, no one gets hurt!

Practicing What I Preach

” Parked In The Sun”
watercolor 15 x 22 inches
I have been lamenting for several weeks (months) that I have not been able to paint.
You might recognize the following if you have not been painting . . . . . .doubts and fears set in about whether I am reallty capable to do this . . . .was I just bee essing the world? . . . .was that last good painting an accident that I will never be able to repeat? . . . . .Have I lost the touch? . . . . . . .and more and more and more! All this pours through our consciousness as daily tasks take us from the easel. Soon, the doubts are so strong that we become nearly paralyzed. Not only that I ‘don’t‘ paint, but it becomes I ‘can’t‘ paint!
For an artist who gets grouchy and irritable when I don’t paint, the very sanity and comfort of those around me is at risk when long stretches between painting happen. It isn’t pretty. 😉
I have always preached to my classes to Just Paint ! Just go make a mess. Don’t worry about what, just make anything. . . . .but fer gooness sake, PAINT!

After a long, long break, something in me snapped. I rose from the bed yesterday absolutely committed to go make colored puddles on paper . . . . .to sling paint and just get used to the feel of it . . . .go ruin some paper, Mike! . . . .just practice what you preach! Forget all the mind chatter and get out there to move some pigment around.

So, I did. It isn’t up to the normal quality that I expect of myself, but that was not the goal. What a great feeling to throw something down with no expectations . . .just try something.

I have much to do in order to gain back my ‘touch.’ But. after yesterday, I am sure I can ‘come back.’

It’s good to be ‘home.’

Tooting or Complaining?

“Bandits at 3 O’Clock”
Watercolor 30 x 22 inches

I suppose this is the only place one can come to toot their horn a little bit. Maybe a place to complain a bit now and then, too.

So here’s both!
(Complaint) I haven’t painted much for what seems like months! Yes, I have put a little teensy amount of time into a very complex watercolor which, I expect, will take months to finish.
(Complain #2) Time is getting away from me fast! Too many “duties,” if you know what I mean. Those are things that MUST be done without question . . . .time limitations don’t count.
(Toot) San Diego Watercolor Society’s Annual National Exhibition accepted one of my paintings. (Ahem! Toot! Toot!) :p) That would be the above painting. You can see the title.
Some of you may not understand the title. Let me help a little bit. First, click on the painting and it will expand much larger. Second, most guys I have met love to “watch the girls” from whatever vantage point they have (obviously!). Outdoor workers are not exempt by any stretch of the imagination. And there are ‘code words’ among friends to alert anyone else in the group that a good “sighting” has been made.
“Bandits” is jargon used by US Air Force pilots for enemy aircraft. The clock time is the position in the sky of the ‘bandits’ with the cockpit being the center of the clock. In this painting, the alert has been sounded. You can figure out the rest from there.
Other than tooting or complaining, I just wanted to check in and say Hi to you all out there in the sphere of cyber.

On Value Transitions

“Crumpled Considerations”
Watercolor 30 x 22 inches
Last week a gentleman inquired about my method in making these non objective paintings.
First a sketch. A simple sketch which shows two or three simple value shapes. Those different values must, in my mind, exist in a ratio of Large, medium and tiny. Which specific value group is one size or the other doesn’t matter. I happen to like a large lighter compositional shape which reaches for and touches at least three sides of the piece. The dark and medium values would surround the large shape.
Mind you, when I refer to “light,” it may mean several different light values . . . . . .that is lighter than everything else in the painting.
The big trick in putting this to paint is to first isolate the large light shape by blocking it in with various glazes of paint layers. The use of glazes assures variation and, if I am careful with different techniques, texture, too. Over several days, I will gradually begin to encroach on the big light shape along the edges, gradually changing value and color. By edges and the amount of encroachment, this could mean as much as covering the majority of the shape or as little as a mere centimeter into the shape.
The work ensues until there are a series of value steps from dark to medium to medium-light to light to lightest. Those transitions and graduations of value (and color) prevent the eye from being stopped by too much, or too sudden, contrast. Only at one location will there be a strident step from dark to lightest. And that location will be in a very strategic spot.
Gradually textures are created and, toward the end, there are a few stampings and spatters in unique places to help soften or assist a sudden value transition. In short, this process requires a lot of attention to edges and contrasts.
As the piece nears completion, there are always errors and problems with balance and misplaced contrasts. Sponging out areas using various masks (or not) helps to resolve many of these issues.
Overall, the goal is to make a painting which is completely unified from corner to corner, where there are relationships throughout the piece. That is where shapes are related in their character, value, color and or texture. There must be passages and movement through the piece and it must have excitement. That last word is the opposite of boredom. Every single square inch (or centimeter) must have something happening that is related to other parts of the painting, but in that relating must also be different. Texture stampings, for example, must be similar but different. VARIATION is a a key operative.
So!! There you have it. How long do paintings like this take? Weeks and, frequently, months!
Failure is my companion every step of the way. It is part of the process. The trick is to work the painting until it is finished: Never give up. Think think think think!!!!

Studio Busy News

“picasso” wet from the rain
No paintings today, folks. Just news.

It may seem as though nothing is happening in my studio, but quite the opposite is in play. It seems as though everything is coming at once.
First news is my entry to AWS was an award winning painting at NWS, but was turned away at AWS. Go figger that! Who knows why? It is always a crap shoot . . .luck has to play a part.
Second news . . . .my workshop season is in full swing! Am off to Reno this week, then to the Carolinas and beyond in the next 30 days. My studio is being used frantically as I prep for classes, exercises and examples for the participants . . . and the mess is stacking up. Any of you painters out there have difficulty keeping things in order in your studio? For me, the busier, the messier.
Third news . . . .I have a new “job.” This job is one full of honor and responsibility to tradition and prestige. I must answer to those who have gone before me as examples and it won’t be easy. However, I am hoping I will be able to bring new wisdom, new energy and lots of expansion to the post. I have been chosen as President of NWS (National Watercolor Society). I officially took office this last month. Busier!
If any of you out there have thoughts about the society or where you’d like to see it go, I would like to hear from you.
Many of you know of the other news . . . we have a new puppy. “Picasso” is his name. And, yes, he is very demanding and steals our attention constantly. (What were we thinking?? :p) ) Even busier!!!

Today’s Demo

“Rocks and Carpets”
Watercolor, 22 x 30 inches
This was the demo today. It is a fairly complex painting with challenges in linear perspective, atmospheric perspective, compostion, value structure, color and texture.
I attempted to show and discuss the thinking process in developing a decent watercolor painting, the preparation and planning to establish a strong composition to a ‘standing room only’ crowd of around 90 to 100 painters. it was exciting and fun!
As most of my readers know from reading this blog, and seeing the paintings posted here, I try very hard to go out to where other watercolorists visit rarely, if ever. This piece was more of a traditional watercolor painted so the audience would relate with the scene, as well as the structure of the piece. I attempted to show how the elements and principles apply in realism, as well as abstract painting.
If you were there, I hope you enjoyed it . . .and I hope you will comment here. All in all it was a fun afternoon, but I have to admit that it took several hours for me to ‘come down.’ I get nervous about these sort of things, even though I paint a lot.
This demo kicked off my ten week course beginning tomorrow, “Watercolor Beyond the Obvious.” More about it later. Thanks to those who came today. You were a terrific audience!

Demo Announcement

Yep!! That’s me . . .out in the field near Eymet, France.

But that is not what this is about. I am giving a big painting demo Sunday, Jan 24 at the Hoover Community Center in San Jose. Start time is 1:30 PM. . . .ending at 4PM

Look up Hoover Theater or Hoover Middle School in San Jose. The center is part of that complex and faces Naglee Avenue.

I would like to give an address, but, darn it! I don’t have it. So, the next best thing is to get to the Hoover Theater at 1677 Park Avenue in San Jose, stick your head in the door and ask where the community center is. There will be people there to direct you.

Sure hope you can make it.

P.S. “Big” Demo means painting a big landscape on a “Big” piece of paper. 😉