Posts Tagged ‘watercolor’


From the Classroom Watercolor Color Charts

February 28, 2019

Most of the students enrolled in my Beginners – Level 1 class have little or no experience with watercolor. Others have had some experience, though not necessarily positive. To get the students started, our first assignment is to create a color chart. I find it interesting that the students that need the color chart experience the least, enjoy the assignment the most. Upon completion of the chart, the students will have familiarized themselves with the Arches 140# Cold Press paper, the twelve basic colors of our palette and the feel of their watercolor brushes.

Color Chart

Seems that the most stressful part of the assignment is drafting the chart onto a full sheet of watercolor paper. After that task is completed, we spend a two hour class session playing on the left half of our charts. The left side will help the student understand how to take the paint from intense application to a wisp of pigment. Some students are heavier with the paint. Others are a bit more timid. They also learn how to apply a glaze of pigment to alter a prior application of color. This also involves learning some of the strategy and patience required with watercolor.


Color Glaze

The second week of the color chart is spent on the right side of the chart where we play with color combinations. This exercise challenges them to apply strong pigment from dry paper onto a moistened section of the Arches paper and then introducing a second pigment into the mix. There are two parts to this challenge. Where the colors meet, part is to be left butting up against each other without mixing and then delicately mixing the colors on the other end of the meeting. This exercise allows students to experience how the colors work with and against each other. They will generate understanding as how to apply more interesting applications of colors when we start creating paintings. It also teaches them to be swift and brief with some color combinations to avoid “mud”.

Color Combinations

Once in awhile, a student will squawk that they already have a color chart which they purchased at the art supply store and they don’t feel that they should have to do this exercise. Or they may offer that I should just print copies of these charts and not bother them with this exercise. My immediate reply is to challenge them. By the time the students have finished these charts they learn more than they think they did. They gain familiarity with the feel of the paper, the paints and the brushes. They learn about the sedimentary characteristics of some pigments and the high fluidity of others. They learn the colors. They learn how the pigments can work with each other to yield more exciting opportunities than just buying more tubes of paint.

As each student has their own “isms”, observing and guiding the students through these charts enables me to help them with their paintings as they move on to our other painting classes.


From the Classroom Advanced Watercolor – Lanark Farm

February 26, 2019

This week, I utilized the following reference photo for our watercolor landscape challenge.

Lanark Farm

I uncovered more than two dozen design possibilities. Winnowing the potentials to just a few compositions for the students.

Thumbnail and Value Sketch for Lanark farm

Using a few loose thumbnail sketches for ideas and a value sketch, I did a quick watercolor demonstration. The first demonstration is a design which links the building shadows to create an interesting shape to hold the composition together. Notice the light and lively application of colors to keep the shadows from being boring. The second demonstration took the first demo to another level by introducing the concept of atmospheric perspective to the barn in the background to enhance and give a better feeling of depth to the design.

Quick Watercolor Demos

After these demos were painted, I answered additional questions and then let the artists begin their versions of this idea.


From the Classroom Advanced Watercolor – New Strategy

February 24, 2019

Basket of Blossoms 2 – Watercolor on Arches 140# CP Paper – 12″ x 9″

In the on-going challenge to sate the desire my advanced students have to learn more, I endeavor to move them from their comfort zone.

My advanced students are a varied mixture of experiences. Some are still working, others are retired. Some prefer Still Life, others prefer Landscapes. They each have their own level of understanding and each one has their own unique style. Some allow watercolor to be watercolor awhile others aim to tightly control the medium. The community interaction is enjoyable while their desire to learn more makes it a challenge for me to find new ways to help each one meet their next plateau.

I have attempted to help students understand how to work with reference photos. When your eyes are trained, you should be able to find at least six possible compositions in any photograph. This proves to be a challenge as too often the students will faithfully copy the reference photo which I offer as the idea of the week.

I am using a new approach this semester. The students will receive thumbnail sketches of at least six possible designs. They will not see the reference photo until we meet for class. It is their challenge to utilize their imagination and decide what kind of a scene they will paint. Season, time of day, colors, etc. It is recommended that they gather references to help them paint the scene in class.

At the start of class, I reveal the reference photo, all of the thumbnail sketches in my Strathmore Sketchbook and a four value marker sketch of one of the designs. I will do a quick, loose watercolor demonstration to help the students visualize a bright, lively start to their watercolor paintings. For those students interested, I will answer questions and offer ideas to help them learn how to see more in their reference photos.



Workshop Demonstrations

September 11, 2018

Demo #1 – Watercolor on Arches 140# CP – 8″ x 12″

Demo #2 – Watercolor on Arches 140# CP – 8″ x 12″

Demonstration paintings from a recent watercolor workshop at the Peninsula School of Art. The strategy is to connect areas of the painting to help create unity especially in and with the subordinate shapes.

#1 – started with the sky and moved directly into the background trees – starting at the left and increasing the intensity and vibrancy of the trees as I moved to the right. Then moved to allow these colors to strategically flow into the foreground. After allowing the initial wash to dry thoroughly, I utilized negative painting techniques to separate and emphasize subjects.

#2 – I began with the background trees, moving from the left. As I worked the trees, I utilized this same wash to indicate the shadows of the shed and its shadow.

Often, the initial wash is sufficient to define the important elements and lessen the need for a lot of cluttering details.


Sunspot and Klenkes

December 19, 2017

Sunspot Along German Road – Watercolor on Arches 140# CP – 12″ x 16″

Preparing fresh images for an upcoming watercolor workshop, I played with these two designs.

Sunspot Along German Road, is a follow up to an oil painting. The work is from sketches made during a trip into Door County Wisconsin.

Klenke’s is worked from a reference photo. The site is a well known spot in Ellison Bay Wisconsin.

Klenke’s -Watercolor on Canson 140# CP – 9″ x 12″


Klenke’s Garage

July 7, 2017

Klenke’s Garage – Oil on Oil Primed Canvas – 8″ x 10″

Due to inclement weather, I opted to work in the studio. I worked with reference photos from trips to Door County. None of the photos gave me an uncluttered view. Each photo of this old structure had elements which obstructed the view I wanted. But I was able to utilize portions from several photos to create the neater version pictured above.

Enjoyed that exercise enough that I decided to repaint the design in watercolor as pictured below.

Klehnke’s – Watercolor on 140# CP – 9″ x 12″


October Flair

June 19, 2014
October Flair; Watercolor on Daler-Rowney140# each 10" x 14"

October Flair; Watercolor on Daler-Rowney140# each 10″ x 14″

To help my watercolor students understand the idea of building their paintings, I occasionally create these “step-paintings”. Most students can visualize how they want their finished painting to look but often end up with rather mechanical and stiff paintings which often lack harmony and a sense of playfulness.

The first, or Outline stage (top illustration) is created in a technique which I refer to as “splash”. This is a manner of loosely applying colors in way that allows the colors to flow into each other. Although all of the major elements are clearly sketched out before painting begins, all lines become suggestions and not barriers. That is, I allow the yellows and oranges from the tree foliage to flow into the green grass, if it wants to. This latitude allows for interesting opportunities and will aid in adding harmony to the painting.

After the “Outline” stage has an opportunity to dry, I proceed to the “Refine” and “Define ” stages to complete the painting as seen at the bottom of the watercolor paper.


Fish Creek Cottage Demo

December 15, 2013
Fish Creek Cottage: Demonstaration of Outline - Refine - Define

Fish Creek Cottage: Demonstration of Outline – Refine – Define

In an effort to help my watercolor students loosen up and get a little more bold with their initial applications of paint, I worked this demonstration.

I started with a 16 x 20 block of watercolor paper. I created the drawings side-by-side. The fun and yet tough part of this was to apply my first, or “Outline” phase in the same manner to each of the two designs. That is to say, I worked to get both sides of this work as similar as possible. With watercolor, you will never get the same results twice, but it is still a fun challenge. When this “Outline” phase was completed and dried, I  selected the painting on the right side to use for my “Refine” and “Define” stages. This enabled the students to better understand the steps necessary to create their paintings. It also helps them to see how they can go a little more bold with their initial washes of paint to help keep their finished works fresher and a little less muddy.


Plein Air Gear

May 13, 2013

As mentioned in my previous blog, this August, Rock Valley College will be offering a Plein Air art workshop.  In this blog I will offer thoughts concerning general equipment to aid your artistic efforts. I also offer some ideas concerning basic supplies for watercolor painting en plein air as well as supplies for oil painting en plein air.

Painting en plein air is enough of a challenge. Do yourself a favor. Do not expect to create a masterpiece. You are out to enjoy the nice weather, gather ideas, do research to aid your studio works, enjoy the company of others, or just paint. If you ease up on your expectations, the results will be far more beneficial than you could imagine (and occasionally, you will create a masterpiece).

 Lighten your load. Some painting locations are near our cars which makes it easier. In some cases, you may have to hike to your spot. I am often in one spot for 1 – 2 hours. Comfort and ease will be necessary to keep the experience more enjoyable. I would like to offer a few thoughts.

 General Supplies –

·         Dress for the weather, but prepare for change. I dress for 10 degrees cooler than what the weather people tell us. Once at your location, you will be standing (or sitting) for awhile (i.e. not moving). Most artists will find locations in shade and if the wind is blowing at all, it will feel cooler and you need to be comfortable when you paint.

o   Wear neutral colors. Avoid white, bright colors and/or black.

o   Suggest long sleeves and slacks/pants. Deters bugs and sun burn.

o   Have an extra layer available in case the wind kicks up, the clouds roll in or rain threatens. Have a long sleeved collared shirt, light jacket, or sweatshirt available.

o   Comfortable shoes

·         Insect repellent

·         Sun block

·         Snacks – suggest fruit, granola bars or trail mix. Not a full meal, just enough to help reenergize you.

·         Brimmed hat – protection from the sun. I avoid sunglasses so I can see the colors and values more accurately.

·         Water/water bottle – Especially when it is warm or hot.

·         Plastic bag for any trash which you generate or find.

·         Paper towels.

·         Before parking your car, scout out location of washrooms and drinking water.

·         Camera – suggested but not necessary. Captures details, fleeting moments and can even help you compose your design.

·         Cell phone – Safety.

·         Umbrella – optional.

·         Portable folding stool

·         Viewfinder – Optional but very helpful.

·         Small pliers and screwdriver.

·         Small bungee cords and clamps – Optional, but in windy conditions, helpful.

·         Sketchbook – to lock in the design and capture the shadow patterns. Also, there are some days (moods), locations, weather conditions or time factors which may prohibit painting. You can always sketch and learn.

·         Business cards or contact information – some passerby might just be interested in that masterpiece that you are creating.

Watercolor Plein Air Gear

Watercolor Plein Air Gear

·         Watercolor

o   Tote Bag – I use a back pack for plein air painting

o   Palette – I suggest a small folding palette (I load up with paint before heading to the site).

o   Paints – In addition to my usual palette, I keep a tube of Gouache White or Chinese White with my kit. I also keep a container with extra tubes of paint in my car, just in case. The usual colors on my palette include: Hookers Green, Burnt Sienna, Yellow Ochre, Winsor Lemon, Aureolin (or New Gamboge) Yellow, Cadmium Orange, Winsor Red, Alizaron Crimson, Cerulean Blue, Cobalt Blue, Ultramarine Blue, Prussian Blue and Paynes Gray.

o   Brushes – Do not bring your favorite brush (it will be the brush most likely to get lost). Your choice but, depending on the size paper I am using, I usually just use a #10 or 12 round and a #6 pointed round.

o   Paper – Arches 140# CP (300# is a good alternative). I suggest you either bring small pieces of paper and use a clip board or use watercolor paper in a block or sketchbook.

o   Water for brushes – I use a plastic container that formerly contained lemonade mix (it’s just the right size and seals up tight). I also keep a container of water in the car, just in case.

o   Portable Easel (ex. French Easel). – Optional. You may wish to sit and use your lap to support your paper.

o   Small towel and facial tissues.

o   Pencil and kneaded eraser

Oils Plein Air Gear

Oils Plein Air Gear

·         Oils/Acrylics – I usually stand so I either use my Judson’s Guerilla paint box and tripod or a French Easel

o   Tote Bag – I use a 5 gallon bucket with a cloth tool bag.

o   Palette – The Judson’s Guerilla Box has its own palette or I use a wooden palette in a Masterson’s Artist Palette Seal

o   Paints – The cloth tool bag holds all my necessary paints. My usual palette of colors includes: Titanium White, Cadmium Lemon/Cadmium Light, Cadmium Yellow, Cadmium Orange, Grumbacher Red, Alizarin Crimson, Ultramarine Blue and Ivory Black. I also have  Permanent Rose, Raw Sienna, Cerulean Blue, Cobalt Blue, Thalo Green, Transparent Oxide Red, and Naples Yellow – just in case.

o   Brushes – I use hog bristle flats #2 through #10 at least two of each. I prefer Robert Simmons Signet brand. I use a couple paper towel tubes to help keep them neatly inside my bucket

o   Support – I usually use canvas panels which I can carry in my paint box/easel. I also use a Handy Porter or canvas carrier for larger panels.

o   Small jar (ex. baby food jar) to carry odorless mineral spirits.

o   Disposable gloves

o   Disposable Diaper, paper towels and plastic bags.

o   View Finder

Photos of Tom Linden painting courtesy of Bob Logsdon Photography


Plain Fun with Plein Air: Summer 2013 Workshop

May 7, 2013

Workshop           August 7, 8 & 9, 2013            8:00am – noon

 Plain Fun with Plein Air

Sponsored by Rock Valley College. Class # ART 815 NC

Join us for three days of fun-in-the-sun as we explore ideas, concepts and strategies for enjoying plein air painting. The workshop will focus on helping you to understand how to locate and focus on a subject, how to quickly establish your design, and how to evaluate, amend and finish your works on location. Each day, an objective will be explained, and demonstrated. Students will have time to work on their designs. Students will receive one-on-one assistance and group instruction. Work in your medium of choice – watercolor, oils, pastels, etc. The focus will be on learning new ideas and concepts as well as learning how to be safe, meet new friends, have fun and perhaps, create a masterpiece. It is suggested that you plan to work on small supports (paper, canvas, panel, etc., nothing larger than 11 x 15). Please contact the instructor ( prior to the workshop for information concerning recommended supplies in addition to your painting equipment.

This workshop will be held in the outdoor gardens at the Nicholas Conservatory in Rockford (1354 N. 2nd Street). Please contact me if you need directions to this workshop and/or suggestions for area hotels.

To find out more about the workshop or to register, please contact Rock Valley Community College (815) 921-3900.

Photographs courtesy of Bob Logsdon Photography