Recent Work- Finding New Shapes


When I've had the chance to paint recently, I've been exploring new shapes and compositions.  This is a fun process, and essential, I think.  I've been told that one of the worst things, as artist, is to get relatively good at something and then trap yourself and just do it over and over again.  That takes all the fire out of the thing!  :(

Part of the fun of making art, for me anyways, is exploring new experiences and techniques.  Challenging myself and playing in a space where I don't know exactly what's always going to happen.  One of the funny things, of course, is you have to break a few eggs along the way.  In my experience, that's the best way for me to learn.  As such, I wanted to share some of my messups, as well as the following paintings that I was more satisfied with.



This floral was done as a demo in a workshop.  Not terrible, but not my favorite.  I wasn't paying enough attention to my color palette, nor the vase.  The goal, of course, was to provide a demo of wet into wet painting, and not to provide a subject that was too difficult, but still...


However, at the end of the same workshop, I hammered out this pair of roses as a demo, and was quite happy with the result.  They sort of surprised me! :D  I paid attention to detail when I needed to, particularly on the vase and stems, let the simpler composition dictate my more cohesive color choices, and reserved my darks for only the most critical places.




I've also been exploring some of the subject matter from my Southwest trip this last summer.  This is a strange new color palette for me!  I want to somehow communicate the glow on the rocks, which requires a thoughtful use of color, but the shapes and color scheme were all wrong for me in this earlier piece.  I admit- sometimes I get 1/2 way through a painting and I lose interest, such as with this one.  I could tell I wasn't going to be really satisfied with the result.  If I can, however, I make myself power through.  The paintings don't take that long anyways.  There's lots to learn by going all the way through the painting process... particularly when I come back to a similar painting later.


Below is that "similar painting done later".  One of my absolute favorite destinations in the southwest was was Antelope Canyon.  I did my reading, and made a point to arrive around 12 noon and to go to the lower (less visited) canyon.  Heaven!!  Such amazing rock formations.  Sigh...  My color palette was definitely influenced by my earlier attempt, as I tried to mute my color choices and reserve my higher chroma areas for special locations.  I also attempted to integrate more wet work into this one than my previous piece, so that the harder lines stood out more and had something to contrast against.  I was very drawn to the idea that the composition is really an abstract born out of organic shapes, and it needs to work as one before I even think of it as the actual location I went to.



Urban Perspectives-

These last two were done on the same day.  Sometimes, I like to work on two pieces at once.  As the first wash on one dries, I begin work on the second painting.  I find it can help keep things fresh and less overworked, and helps foster the mentality that "I've got another painting waiting for me, so why futz over this one and make too many unneeded marks!"  :)

This first one is from Barcelona. I had a great time drawing it and was in love with that cast shadow on the face of the skinny building, but I began to recognize (only part way through) that I didn't really have an interesting focal point or human element.  I also felt that the colors for my first wash were too strident and lacked variety.  The sky was too blue and the building too yellow and without variety.



This last photo was taken at a train station in Spain.  I've had people think it was BART.  Of course, the goal is for it to be any train station anywhere.  My reference photo didn't have the person, but the moment I took the picture, I knew the sort of subject I wanted.  That was a clear shift from the previous painting.  Both photos are very "perspective dominant", but this one features a great deal more trapped light which drew my eye into the little pockets.  I muted my colors and focused on a choosing a warm, dominant color scheme.  I also tried to vary my values more, by pushing my darks in key areas, while modulating my other tones to get a fuller range. 


Recent Nautical Work

quarter sheet saunders waterford, 11" x 15"

quarter sheet saunders waterford, 11" x 15"

I often joke that boats sell paintings, and that if I just painted more of them I'd make more money.  But by chance, I've actually recently been painting a few more nautical subjects than normal.  Haha!  This first one is from Benicia.  It's on a quarter sheet (11" x 15") of Saunders Waterford, done without any tape, but instead sprayed on the back with water and "attached" to the board through water tension- a new technique that I learned in a workshop with Herman Pekel this last August (more on that in upcoming posts!).  Here's the reference photo and the final painted image for comparison. 


We were driving home and my darling wife pulled over and chilled out for 10 minutes while I took a bunch of photos.  Ha!  That's love!  Note how I brought the light around the distant hills, as well as brought the sail boat closer to me.  In another photo at the same location, the palm on the right featured more prominently, so I took it and scootched it over to better frame the image.  Artistic license!  :D

These last few months I've also been getting out and doing more plein air work than normal.  Good friends, some sunshine, and an opportunity to pay focused attention.  My kind of gig!  We've been meeting up down around Alameda and Jack London Square in Oakland, and there are lots of nautical subjects down there.

This one is from Alameda, looking back at the Oakland hills with the Coats Guard in front. I shared it incidentally in August.

half sheet of Arches, 15" x 22", plein air

half sheet of Arches, 15" x 22", plein air

Once again, some artistic license was taken.  The red sail boat was actually there, but at a different time.  I used a photo to paint it in, in the location I liked best.  I also liked the story it began to tell, with the comparison of the two boats.  Comparisons are a powerful silent compositional tool.

This third one was painted over by Jack London, looking back at Alameda. 

quarter sheet saunders waterford, 11" x 15", plein air

quarter sheet saunders waterford, 11" x 15", plein air

I wish I had a photo of the view, because the most important part was how very very far I had to zoom in.  There was a ton of junk between my location and the boats, but I zeroed in on what I wanted to paint, and left out the rest.

This last one was done earlier in October.  It's plein air at Jack London, where they had this tall ship (Lady Washington).  I saw it after painting the boats up above, and immediately knew I wanted to paint it.  All that rigging is crazy, and a lovely opportunity for endless calligraphy!!! LOL.  I was curious about the challenge.  Here's the boat, and the piece as it looked after I had just finished it-


However, almost immediately after I was done I was dissatisfied.  I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but it all seemed sort of washed out.  Cleo noted that the sky was very washed out in my painting, and that it was a much richer blue in reality.  I really liked this thought.  It also occurred to me that by darkening both the upper and lower thirds of the painting, I could strengthen the sense of depth along the horizon. 

After I got home, I rewet the back, slapped it on the board, and figured "screw it."  A glaze like this normally doesn't phase me much, but I'd already dropped in my rich darks, in particular up top, around the rigging and such, and so was concerned about bleeding.  But I wasn't totally satisfied with the painting.  What's the point in keeping it around, if I wished I'd gave it another go and done it better?  So I a wash of richer Ultramarine Blue from the top down, cutting around the boat sails and the flag, gently diluting it more and more as I approached the horizon.  There, I cut around the boat itself, but dropped in the blue again down towards the foreground, with a soft application of water over the white reflections to keep my edges soft.  This is what I got-

half sheet of saunders waterford, 22" x 15"

half sheet of saunders waterford, 22" x 15"


Not the Mona Lisa, but a marked improvement nonetheless.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained.   

Some Essentials- Thoughts From Teaching Workshops

Steve's workshop.jpg

I’ve been teaching 2-day workshops since May, and as I’ve gone over much of the same material repeatedly, some thoughts have come to the front.  I wanted to share some of those things I hope my students are taking away with them, to keep in the front of their minds when doing their own paintings afterwards.  I've included a 4-part demo video as well, as we discuss many of the same principles I'm talking about in the post within the video itself.  If you've got 40 minutes of time, come and participate!  :)  If you've


Wet Into Wet Painting Is About Edges-

The workshops have focused entirely on wet-into-wet painting- both on clouds and landscapes, as well as florals.  In a nutshell, as I see it, that means we’re really learning about how to control our edges.  To plan our edges.  Do we want soft or hard connections?  How do we make and control them?  Of course, are there other, more complicated, things to understand?  Value, Color, Composition, etc?  Yes.  But for the workshop, at its core, edges is what it’s about, and all the new decisions students are learning about deal with that element of the painting process. 


3 Tools-

The biggest and simplest idea is that all your paintings really come from the interaction of only 3 tools- the paper, the water/pigment mixture, and your brush.  As I see it, all the variables available come from how these three things interact. 


Paper- As the classes I’m teaching have been about wet-into-wet painting, the first question here is “How wet is your paper?” I don’t deny this is based on Ewa Karpinska’s descriptions and Joseph Zbukvic’s Watercolor Clock.  Of course, that’s just a conceptual framework to describe some general truths about painting watercolor.  But as it’s so functional, I’m going to steal it. !!  I'm not interested in reinventing the wheel.  Thank you to those painters who have come before me.

So, how wet is your paper?  Of course, most people can identify if the paper is dry or very very wet, like a lens, with the water sitting on its surface like a dome.  But what about all the steps in between? Is it wet to the touch with a shine to it?  Damp and cool, with no shine?  People should be using the back of their fingers to gently touch their paper here and there while painting. You should be lifting your painting to the light or bending over part way to see if it has a shine.  If you don’t know how wet your paper is, how will you know what effect you’re going to get when you introduce pigment and brush?


Water/Pigment Ratio- The Watercolor Clock is also a very handy way of assessing this.  However, it’s a regular feature in the method of many painters, including, for example, Marc Holmes’ “tea goes well with a bit of milk and honey”.

When you’re mixing your paint, you should be assessing how diluted the mixture is.  Can you see through the pigment mixture, and it runs on the palette when you tilt it? Tea.  Is it a thicker and more opaque mixture, like milk, but it still runs some when you shift your palette?  Is it thick and goopy, right from the tube, like butter?  You need to assess these sorts of things while painting, because this is the paint mixture you’ll be picking up with your brush, and different dilutions act differently when you drop them into a wet (or dry!) area.


Brush- Third, you have your mark-making device.  People should be changing their brushes as they move through a painting.  Big to little, mop to synthetic, loose and wet to tighter and more descriptive.  Often times, students start with a certain brush and stay with it the whole way through the painting, but, definitively, different brushes make different marks and have different water-holding capacities. 

It’s also worth recognizing that just because you’ve mixed up a big, diluted, watery pool of “tea” doesn’t necessarily mean you need to saturate a mop brush with it and apply it that way.  Of course, you can, but it's not the only way to use it.  You can switch to a synthetic (which holds less water), or squeeze the water out of your brush first, before you daub it into the mixture, for example, to not have so much water in the brush’s “reservoir”.  You get to control how much water you want on your brush, and that makes a big difference for how soft or hard your wet-into-wet edges will be.


Of course, there's more to painting than technique.   But (paraphrasing) as I say in the video, "Nobody cares if you have technique, once you know how to paint.  But if you don't know how to control your tools, it's very hard to communicate what you want to share."  So, understanding how to "read" your tools, how to manipulate them, is essential.  It's the most basic thing you have to keep in your mind.  From there, you can begin to assess the effects you are creating, depending on how wet the paper is, or how diluted your paint mixture, or how loaded your brush.  From there, 100%, you can begin to think about composition, structure, what you want to say, etc.  But you've got to get technique down first.  And that starts with fully understanding these three tools.

Upcoming Florals Classes- October and November


I've got two more workshops I'm doing this year before the holidays arrive.  Both are on Wet-Into-Wet Florals and already have enough students to go forward, but there are seats available in both sessions if you'd like to join.  The classes are the same in terms of focus- exploring wet-into-wet watercolors, controlling your edges, learning through rapid experimentation with technique, and, in general, painting vibrant, loose florals. 

If you've taken a Cloud class with me before, these classes will work well in conjunction with what you've already learned.  If you want to reinforce key precepts, we'll be reiterating many basic, important technical points from the earlier workshops, while expanding your focus to include new shapes and techniques specific to flowers.  However, if you've not taken a workshop with me before, not to worry!!  :)  We'll start, in the words of Mary Poppins, "at the very beginning.  A very good place to start."  Namely, becoming familiar with the Watercolor Clock and how to "read" the paper's moisture, understanding how water on the paper guides your pigment, how to control your brush, etc etc. 

It's gonna be fun, folks!  And I aim to fill your mind with helpful, pointed tips that will expand your practice.


Arts Benicia- Loosening Up With Wet-Into-Wet Florals

Saturday & Sunday,  October 28 & 29
9:00 – 4:00 pm
$195 Non-members | $180 Members, no food included

Class Size: Minimum 5 | Maximum 12
Level: Beginning and Intermediate
Age: Adults 18+
Location: Arts Benicia classroom


Vacaville Studio- Loosening Up With Wet-Into-Wet Florals

Interested parties should reach out to me through the Contact page here on my website, and I will direct you personally to Misuk Goltz, who is coordinating the workshop, site details, and payment.

Tuesday & Thursday, November 7 & 9

9:30 - 4:30 pm     185$, with lunch and snacks included

Age: Adults 18+