My Upcoming Events and Classes in Benicia: Save the Dates!

If you are a local artist or art lover in the SF Bay Area, there will be a number of upcoming events in Benicia over the next 2 months that I wanted to highlight today.


Benicia Plein Air Gallery Group Show

Sunday, August 6th, 300-500 pm-

I'll be one of the 12 artists with a piece in this show.  We'll all have painted the same local water scene, and there will be an ekphrastic poetry reading to go along with it- namely, local poets write poems to go with the art.  It's a lot of fun, and we did something similar last year, with great success.



Workshop- Wet-Into-Wet Clouds and Landscapes-

Saturday and Sunday, August 12-13, 900-400pm, 195$

My July workshop on Clouds is full, but I've got a second workshop on Wet-Into-Wet Clouds and Landscapes set up at Arts Benicia. If you would like to sign up, please follow this link-  Payment will go directly through Arts Benicia, and the workshop will be held in their classroom, which is also in Benicia.  This will be my first workshop on a weekend, as I try to meet the schedules of those with full time work.  Should be lots of fun! 



2nd Annual Benicia Plein Air Paint Out

Saturday, August 26th, 900-500 pm

The Benicia Plein Air Paint Out is back in action!  Last year was a great inaugural event, with over 40 painters, and we are hoping to up the ante with more participants and publicity this year.  We'll be donating 15% of all sales to the local Arts Benicia Youth Program.  If you are an artist and would like to participate, please follow this link for all pertinent information, including a prospectus and entry form-



Reception for my show at the Benicia Plein Air Gallery

Saturday, September 9th, 400-600 pm

I'll be the Featured Artist at the Benicia Plein Air Gallery for the month of September. The show is yet to be named, but this will be the day of my reception.  Besides the normal wall the FA gets, I'll be bringing in a substantial amount of additional work to be hung outside, so there should be a nice selection of 15-20 of my paintings up for viewing and sale.  If you'd like to see some of my new work in person, ask me questions, or are interested in purchasing something, this is a good date to save!  :)

My 2nd Joseph Zbukvic Workshop- pt. 4

Park Street Demo-

I wanted to start this post by sharing this demo we did on Park Street in Alameda.  It features a lot of the elements I've been talking about over the last few posts.  There are

  • clear Compositional Signposts Joseph follows
  • there are some major edits and additions he does (trees, people, cars)
  • he clearly zooms in to help facilitate a lot of those decisions, and
  • the way he painted the subject was aided by his compositional choices.

Here you can see the photo I took of the location-

I wanted to work on zooming in, so I actually moved farther away than Joseph was, but even he was just past the intersection, in that group of people on the right.  The goal is to see big shapes and how they stack against each other and interlock, not tiny details.  Backing away just a little bit helps that overlaying process.

Although the foreground is busy, Joseph opens it up a bit to let the eye approach the main subject (the interesting corner building, in my mind).  So there are far fewer cars and people there than in real life- although still enough to provide a sense of activity.  He also edits out the trees, which clog up the foreground and stop you from getting to the "actors" as well, and gently dampens the background, making it paler so it recedes a bit.

Much like in the previous post, as I see it, some of Joseph's wet-into-wet technical work was guided in part by his earlier compositional decisions.  He did his broad initial wash (top to bottom), and then set about working on the background shape (the red overlay in the mockup below) after it was dry, working from one side to the other, painting the distant hills and merging in the distant trees, cutting around the buildings and the tops of cars, until he got to the focal point building.  Here in the color-coded mock up below, you can see that first stage, as well as the following 3 steps.

The lit edge of the building is the "1st break point"- a dry area from the first wash, that he used to separate the wet-into-wet shape of the background from the primary wet-into-wet shape of the midground (the green overlay).  Just as he had painted the background, this new shape was painted in one go, adjusted and noodled with while it was still wet. Again, there is another lit area on the building to the left.  This was his 2nd breaking point.  He moved then to the 3rd area (the blue shape), but only once he was done with the focal point work- because, of course, once it was dry he couldn’t work on it wet-into-wet anymore.  Finally, he did the darker foreground shape on the right (the purple area), laying down the general shape, and (again) adjusting it while it was wet.  Much as I noted in the previous post, once you grasp it and assess where your stopping points will be (where you will cut your dry edges), the process is relatively straight forward, because you’ve already made some of your technical decisions when you made your earlier compositional ones. 

My Take On the Subject-


I had done a similar painting a month or so before I did the workshop, and afterwards I had wished I'd focused more on my real subject- the corner building I'd been painting at the time.  So this time I did a vertical and zoomed in.  On that note, I was happy afterwards.  I think it was the right decision, because I edited out information that wasn't pertinent to the story I wanted to tell.  Still, there are a variety of things I'd change- some wobbly laziness with perspective lines, how I need more practice working on my car-shapes, etc.  But the thing that stands out most to me, when I compare it to Joseph's, is his strong use of mid-tones.  Take a look at this again, to see what I mean-

There's often a lot of talk about "vegimite" and getting your darks dark enough, and "juicy darks", all of which is true, but Joseph is actually rather selective about where it goes.   It's his light mid-values that do a lot of the heavy lifting, building the big important shapes against the palest values of the painting while still expressing light themselves, expressing interlocking patterns of hues because they're not too dark, and allowing the bits of very dark darks to pop against them.  Many students who are new to watercolors never get dark enough, everything is too pale, but the opposite can occur too, where the shift between lighter values and the darkest darks is too abrupt, and the light gets swallowed up in your desire to add some "drama".


Selective Vision-

I wanted to end with an overriding idea that JZ shared early on in the workshop.  This was the idea, as he said, that “What makes an artist an artist is how he sees”.  I came back again and again to this as the workshop went along.  Of course, I've heard this sort of thought before, and always assumed it had to do with choosing your subject, or finding magic in the mundane or some such thing.  And I suppose it does.  But training ourselves to clearly pay attention to the vast sea of details in front of us is (while hard) actually the easy part, because "seeing" (once applied) also plays in to the way we build compositions and bond shapes together.  It plays into the idea I called “mind-seeing” and understanding our minds well enough to know we're doing it.  It plays into knowing the story we want to share, and choosing some certain transient details to include, while excluding others.  Namely, it has to do with prioritizing and "selective vision". 

During one of the last days of the workshop, Joseph mentioned the idea that “Every time you put something on the paper, you also take something away.  If you fill it all in, it’s finished before you even start.”  It was actually about the problem with over-painting an area, and filling every little white speckle in, but it really spoke to so much more.  There's a real power in not including everything, in "selective vision".  It makes what you choose to include more important, and lets your viewer fill in the "missing" details with their own memories and intuitions.  Instead of delivering everything, it almost requires a viewer to complete it, however temporarily. 

During the workshop, Joseph recommended a book he's read many times- Robert Henri's "The Art Spirit."  I picked it up, and have been reading it these last few weeks. It is full of quotes that echo and illuminate many of his thoughts. I wanted to end on a few of these, as I felt they so clearly express some of what's been bouncing around in my head-

(While discussing painting the figure) "Realize that your sitter has a state of being, that this state of being manifests itself to you through form, color, and gesture, that your appreciation of him has depended on your perception of these things in their significance, that they are there of your selection (others will see differently), that your work will be the statement of what have been your emotions, and you will use these specialized forms, colors, and gestures to make your statement.  Plainly you are to develop as a seer (my emphasis), as an appreciator as well as a craftsman.  You are to give the craftsman in you a motive, else he cannot develop."

(Again while discussing painting the figure) "The artist sees only that in the model which may help him to build up the look he would record.  With the model before him he works from memory.  He refers to the model, but he does not follow the new relations which differing moods establish.  He chooses only from the appearance before him that which relates to his true subject- the look which first inspired him to work. The look has passed and it may not return.  All good work is done from memory whether the model is still present or not."

"The development of the power of seeing and the power to retain in the memory that which is essential and to make record and thus test out how true the seeing and the memory have been is the way to happiness."

"If we only knew what we saw, we could paint it."

Happy seeing, folks. :)


My 2nd Joseph Zbukvic Workshop, pt. 3

How Composition Can Help Guide Technique

For this post, I wanted to share some thoughts on what I see as a link between how Joseph creates his compositions and how he achieves his technique.  As I’ve pointed out in the previous posts, Joseph repeatedly focused (sometimes subtlely, sometimes overtly) on what I call “Compositional Sign Posts”- namely, creating a clear foreground, middleground, and background through bonding smaller shapes together and simplifying details.  That sounds simple conceptually, but it’s actually rather difficult in real life.  However, if you can do it, there’s a wonderful ripple effect that can echo outwards.  Not only can other compositional concerns begin to fall into place (guiding the eye with leading lines, creating depth, prioritizing shapes), but there are technical payoffs as well, as those same shapes can guide your wet-into-wet paint application.


Lake Merritt Demo-

One of the days we went down to Lake Merritt, and under the shade of a tree we looked out over the water and began doing this demo of the little canoe docks there.  The first thing to notice, much like when he did the painting of the dry docks or the yacht club, is how much Joseph zooms in on his subject.  My photo here shows all the stuff between us and the focal point. 

There’s the foliage from the tree, the sidewalk, and the plantings, but the painting zooms in, cropping all of that out and instantly helping create a composition that has a clear stage (the lake), actors (the boats and people on the dock), and setting (the hills and buildings on the far side).

When Joseph went in to paint, those compositional divisions helped guide him as he worked wet-into-wet.  He noted how he didn’t just go around higgledy-piggledy, painting this and then that, first a little of the foreground and then a little of mid.  That path leads to madness!  :)  This happens a lot when we think of each building or tree as its own object.  It becomes hard to control wetness and bond shapes together.  The painting gets "chunky" with lots of little hard edges.  Instead, the goal is to bond objects together and think of the foreground, middleground, and background as something like large shapes in and of themselves, and to paint them as such, cordoning off other parts of the painting until you are done with the part you’re already working on. 

As an example, after the initial broad wash for the Lake Merritt demo had dried (which gave us the sky, the pale value of the buildings, and the water), Joseph went about methodically creating the buildings in the background wet-into-wet, moving from one side of the painting to the other, bit by bit, augmenting things as he went, abstracting details, and linking mini-shapes together with something like the quirky cousin of Mr. Bead… which he slowly nudged sideways.  Many times over the course of the workshop, he would ask “Why can I still work here?” as he continued to adjust hues and values wet-into-wet in a certain shape, to which we all learned to reply in unison “Because it’s still WET!"

Again, the real problem is when you divide your painting into too many small shapes and move about from one shape to another, before the first one is done.  That’s when things begin to dry too much.  In this painting, Joseph didn’t even do any real work on the main subject (the dock and boats) until he had finished the entire background shape that he had already started.

Here's the completed piece again-

Upcoming Class on Wet-into-Wet Florals


Loosening Up With Wet-into-Wet Florals!

I will be teaching 2-day wet-into-wet watercolor workshop next week at the Benicia Plein Air Gallery.  Spaces are still available, and if you're interested in signing up, you should contact me directly through the Contact page here on the website.  Students should have some experience with watercolor painting.  I hope to see some of you locals there!

Date- Mon-Tues, June 26-27, 900 am- 400 pm, with a 1-hour break for lunch

Location- Benicia Plein Air Gallery, 307 First Street

Description- Not only are flowers beautiful and lively, but they’re also a great tool for exploring and learning about wet-into-wet work.  We’ll spend two days painting bouquets and vases of varying complexity, learning about the Watercolor Clock and timing, experimenting, and playing fast and loose with edges.  If you’ve been intimidated by wet-into-wet work and wish your paintings would loosen up, this is a good class for you to explore the subject in a guided environment and have fun!  The techniques one learns painting florals can be applied to many other subjects.

Price- 200$