Creating Art necessitates going beyond representing the obvious or replicating a particular subject.
My goal as a painter has more to do with portraying an inner, emotional response to a chosen
subject than faithfully reproducing its image. If a painting is successful, the personal 'dialogue' I
wrestle with will resonate with viewers and affect or arouse their own deepest feelings.
and emotion in my work. Over the past few years I have moved away from the traditional application
of watercolor and explored a style that is spontaneous in brush work and unique in its presentation
and use of color.
Painting outdoors, en plein air, I often choose to interpret the landscapes and streetscapes of the
shore, a subject close to my heart having grown up along the Jersey Coast. After making several
pen and ink sketches to determine the composition and value pattern, I begin painting with a
carefully planned approach in hand. This allows me to apply spontaneous, fresh washes of paint.
While the painting looks loose and quickly executed, much thought and preparation have gone into
the planning part of the procedure. Without a good plan, it would be difficult to create a loose,
Watercolor is an exhilarating medium that inspires me to constantly change, grow and explore new
directions. It's infinitely fascinating and difficult to control which encourages me to continue pushing
its endless limits.
Wow! Time flies! I haven't written my blog in awhile and lots has happened. We are presently in the
midst of a pandemic. I find myself doing a lot of painting and soul searching about my need to create.
I have some new paintings that I think are stronger, more light-infused, with darker values, more
passionate. Art becomes therapeutic as the process of painting takes over. Hours go by. The
excitement takes over.
"Be brave enough to live life creatively...What you discover will be yourself" a
quote from Alan Alda in a commencement speech. There are several ways to interpret this but for me
creating is a must, it's like breathing. It's something I have to do.
I recently took a week long workshop with a very renown watercolor artist who teaches all over the
world. My friends said, "you teach workshops why would you go to one?" As I've said in previous
writings, I feel the learning never ends and I always want to be growing and changing. I told this to
a physical therapist, young, and not artistically inclined and he said, "but isn't that
the definition of Art?.....'something that's constantly developing and changing'?" I like this!!
I find my work is developing and changing in very subtle ways. I wanted to push my work to the
next level and the above workshop gave me more than I realized at the time. This is becoming
apparent in my current demonstrations for students and other audiences. As I refine my
thought processes, more comes clear to me. I recommend that you research workshops and find
one that will help push you to the next level. I strongly feel that if you want advice you should ask
someone who is a lot better. Don't ask someone on your level or below to critique your work. Go to
a respected source! Good advice!
I find that I do some of my best work when I demonstrate
a painting for a group. In other words, I have to practice
what I preach.
My painting process includes a great deal of planning which I have discussed in previous blogs.
Outdoors on location or back in the studio, I do many preliminary sketches using pen and ink wash.
I never eliminate this part of the process so that when I demo, the first step is to discuss the reasons
for, and review, the preliminary ink sketch. This sketch has the composition, the light pattern and
any problems already figured out.
In order to do an effective demo, I review in my mind what I want to accomplish and the steps to get
there. I have to go back to the basics, collect my thoughts and figure out how to explain what I am
going to do. While painting, I can then talk about my thought processes as I go along. I need to be
able to tell people what I am about to do and why. I talk while I demo as much as possible and as a
result, I follow my own advice and “practice what I preach” to the point that I paint some of my best
My demo is done from the sketch since that has the finished plan and I refer to it about 95% of the
time. In this photo of a recent demo, you can see that I work standing up and with the easel on a
pretty severe angle. I like to be able to move around when I paint and walk away from the painting
to view it from a distance. You can also see how closely the painting follows the sketch shown below
Having a plan, thinking about what I want to accomplish and the steps to get there, and being able
to verbalize these thoughts, lead me to be able to create very successful paintings during a demo.
It’s always good to be able to verbalize what you are trying to do with your painting and what you
want to accomplish. If you're not sure what you want to do, it will reflect in your painting.
Paint what you love.
Deciding what to paint is often not easy. Some say, paint what you "know". That doesn't always
explain things. How about, paint what you "love". I'm always attracted to boat scenes, usually
fishing boats and busy marinas. I am attracted to street scenes and mostly those old Victorian
neighborhoods, either city or small town. Why do I love these scenes? Probably because they are
the scenes I grew up with and that invoke my fondest memories.
I think it's important to identify why you chose a scene, whether interior, exterior, still life or even
portrait. Look at it carefully and decide what it is about the "scene" that stirred an emotional
response. In the above boat painting, I like the strong, proud fishing boat with all its rigging and the
bright light and dark shadows that accentuate it. Write down the few words that describe what
attracted you, "strong, proud fishing boat; brilliant light, dark shadows". Then make sure you
The beautiful houses on the Isle of Hope, Georgia always stir my senses. In this particular house
painting above, I love the intricate porches bathed in strong light and interesting shadows. It would
have been easy to lose sight of that and get lost in other house or garden details. Words like
"porches, railings, light, shadows" describe my response to the scene
My goal as a painter is to transfer my feelings about the subject to the viewer. I want to portray my
inner, emotional response rather than faithfully reproducing the subject. If a painting is successful,
it will resonate with viewers and affect or arouse their own deepest feelings.
Write down those few words that describe what you loved about the scene, and referring to those
words as you go along should help keep you focused on your own emotional response to the
Luminous according to the dictionary means - startlingly bright.
A student of mine asked if luminosity in watercolor is controlled by the reflection off the white
watercolor paper. I believe you create the illusion of luminous light through the use of a range of
light and dark values. Value in painting refers to the lightness and darkness of a color. I'm
fascinated by light and it usually attracts me to a subject as you can see in the two paintings shown
here. The challenge is to create that strong light.
I start by building up a series of washes that establish the light areas, the warm and cool shadows,
and finally the contrasting darks. The first wash is most crucial. In last month's blog, I said my
approach to painting begins with ink sketches. While having several reason for doing this, one is to
determine the linking passages of light. It's really important to plan the areas of light. In watercolor
you can't go back and reclaim light, you have to plan for it right from the start. Keep a clear vision
of your goal. This contrast in value will create the illusion of luminous light. It will also give your
If your paintings seem flat and washed out, you quit too soon. Try building up your dark values.
Link your lights. And have a plan.
"Failure to plan, is planning to fail."
"Boat at Dock" 4"x 6" pen and ink sketch
This quote is attributed to Alan Lakein, author of time management books in the 1970's, is an
extremely apt expression for an artist. Planning should be the largest part of your painting time.
Without a plan, you're taking a "hit or miss" approach which will probably result in repainting areas,
sometimes several times. In watercolor that leads to a disaster of muddiness.
For me, planning takes the form of ink and wash sketches. The purpose of the sketch is to lay out
the composition, reduce the subject down to the simplest forms, create the lights, darks and mid
tones and, most importantly...to work out the problem areas. You can also sketch in any medium
that will allow you to show at least 3 values such as pencil or charcoal. I like the excitement of ink
I like to do several sketches showing the subject from different viewpoints and playing with the
direction of the light source. By the time I have done several, I have a really good idea of how I am
going to proceed with paint. And...this may seem most foreign to you...I work from the sketch.
Whether I'm outdoors or in the studio, I always work from the sketch. After all, the sketch has all the
Have a plan. It's a really good idea.
"Drawing is the root of everything", said Van Gogh. He was a master of expressionism, but first, he
was an expert at drawing. Picasso created abstracted, cubist figures, but first, he was an expert at
drawing. If the drawing is wrong, the painting won't work.
Take a few minutes each day and draw. Buy an inexpensive sketchbook. Inexpensive so you won't
mind using lots of paper! Use a pen so you don't spend time erasing! Draw from life...the pepper
grinder, a purse, a shoe, a leaf. You'll learn the most by drawing directly from life and not from
Try to spend 90% of the time looking at the object, and 10% of the time looking at your paper. Wait,
you'll say. Did you get that backwards. No, I mean spend 90% of your time looking at the object.
Challenge yourself to do this. You'll be amazed at how much better you will draw.
Don't just draw the outside line, or outline, draw the inside lines that go across the item, lines that
define what goes on "inside the outline".
As a nine year old student of mine once said, "since I've been drawing, I notice more things. I used
to go fishing and see a fish, now I see the scales, gills, fins!"