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#30x30DirectWatercolor 2018 – Urban Plein Air!

Day One : #30x30DirectWatercolor2018 : Street Scene

So! My day one begins on an overpass above a busy freeway, in high winds and direct sun – my first plein air painting day of the year.

Ed Note: I’m actually in Chicago right now at their 2018 USK Sketching Seminar. But! Luckily I planned ahead. I’ve started my #30×30 early. Don’t worry – I will absolutely do it in 30 consecutive days! I’m doing the same challenge as everyone, I’ve just shifted the time-window. 

This is a sketch of the Snowdon Theatre. Or, at least the block it’s in. It’s the tall streamline era sign in the middle there.

This abandoned neighborhood landmark has been disused for as long as I’ve been in Montreal. There was a sports camp for kids in there for a while, until the place fell so fully into neglect it wasn’t safe for habitation. I suspect the roof fell in or the pipes burst at some point, and that was the last straw.

OK so, what went right?

I picked a cluttered view, with no clear center of interest. I knew I wanted to draw the old theater sign – but otherwise, it’s just a jumble of boxy functional buildings and freeway-junk. Considering that – I’m quite happy with my version of this un-romantic reality. I think it’s succeeded despite itself. This is a slice of my everyday life, seen as a work of art.

What went wrong?

What didn’t! I’m so out of practice with street sketching it’s not even funny! Things were so awkward. Constantly searching around for where I put my binder clips, or digging for a brush in the very bottom of my bag, or what pocket has my spray bottle. I’m using too much mental energy on the basic functions of getting paint and paper together, and I think it shows in the painting.

There are no clear silhouettes. It’s broken up with patchy white spaces, making the forms dissolve. The flattened lack of perspective, and the strange tilt –  while it’s an artistic solution – is also kind of a reflex. A self-defense technique of style over substance.

The first solution to complicated perspective is – ignore it! If that was good enough for Cezanne, it should be good enough for me. But still – I feel the stylization is kind of a crutch. You can only get away with playing the artistic license card so many times in a row.

Anyway – that’s my day one! It can only get better from here :)



Day Three : #30x30DirectWatercolor2018 : Drive By Painting

What went wrong?

Rushed out in the morning for a sketch – choose another view (not this one) based on shelter from the rain. I thought I had something workable, but two terrible attempts on location and I was out of time.

So – took a snapshot from the car, and used that for a sketch in the studio.

I’m developing a theory of painting from reference which is: Bad Photos make Good Paintings.

This is obviously me being Mary-Mary-Quite-Contrary. But my point is, a great photo has too much information. You end up being dominated by the image, slavishly painting what the photographer gave you.

A terrible photo doesn’t own you like that.

Incidentally, even back home in the studio, it’s not always easier. Here are two examples of a false start.

If I don’t come out of the blocks right, I might as well give up. I feel like the sooner you can sense the need to bail-out, the better. Save your energy for the re-do! If there’s a fundamental flaw – like too much chroma in the base color – the painting is doomed. (At least in watercolor).  As well, there’s no saving bad proportions or improper placement on the page.

This is something I see far too often with students or beginners. Trying to beat a dead horse, instead of giving up and just starting again.

If the placement on the page is poor – spending time finishing that is not going to help! You’re just going to feel worse having used your whole time on that painting! Once you produce that dud, it’s as if we don’t have the energy to do it again. Or – more likely – we’re feeling a (false) sense of failure.

Think of every re-do as a victory over a bad painting! Not a failure – a necessary sacrifice.

So – what went right? 

I’m remembering how to draw with the brush. What precision feels like. And remembering to pre-visualize the shape I want to draw – then draw it completely. All in one go. One shape at a time, not jumping around.

Keep edges sharp, and avoid holes in the silhouette, or any false hard-edges inside what should be a clean, simplified shape.

Also, I’m getting a good base value finally.

When a value is perfect the moment you place it – it will dry TOO LIGHT.

It has to look too dark initially so it will dry upwards to a proper value.

Watercolor generally shifts up in value – the wetter the wash, the more the shift as it dries.

Also, I feel like on day three, I’m judging paint consistency more accurately. It’s Tea in the stone walls, but Milk in the clouds, and juicy Honey in the dark trees.

Ok, that’s day three! See you tomorrow!



Day Four : #30x30DirectWatercolor2018 : Nothing Views

What went wrong?

I’m trying something here, which I’m tentatively calling: Nothing Views.

That is – you should be able to make a painting of any street. Even if there’s no obvious subject. This is from the intersection of Queen Mary and Côte-des-Neiges.

My working theory is: any view, no matter how ‘boring’ – a painter should be able to make something of it.

Why is this an issue for me? I’m wondering if it’s a kind of cheating, or mental laziness if every painting you make has to have an idyllic view.

It’s a kind of burgeoning problem for me.

If I’m ONLY a travel sketcher, galivanting around the world painting ancient ruins or epic landscapes – what am I supposed to do with myself at home? What’s a sustainable kind of image you can engage with on an everyday basis? <This is an open question].

What went right?

The upper right-hand corner.


Day Five : #30x30DirectWatercolor2018 : Freeway Sans Traffic

What went wrong?


This is my favorite so far!

I had one false start this AM, but I quit before wasting too much time and relocated to this spot – which has been on my mental ‘to sketch’ list for a while now.

Well OK, one cheat here. I chose to leave out the cars on the freeway.

I might have been braver and tried to get them in? Even though they’re moving fast, they do just keep coming. I could draw them ‘En-Passant‘, the same way I draw moving people on a busy street.

So maybe I get to try another of these with the cars as the focus.

What went right?


It’s another take on a Nothing View. A painting that’s not about anything. No statue of an angel, no Siberian tiger, no cute farmhouse. Just a freeway. But this time the perspective is good, the complexity of the street is well simplified, and the details are nice and sharp. Most people probably don’t want a painting of a freeway – but I’m very happy with this sketch.

Post Script: Here’s today’s false start. Before I remembered this freeway bridge, I tried this cute house over on Ponsard. I think the drawing here – the brush drawing that is – just isn’t up to snuff. For whatever reason it’s disorganized, and a bit blobby. Doesn’t make the cut!


30×30 Bonus Day! Back from USK Chicago!

Here’s me with my eyes closed behind Mike D snapping the selflie with Uma and Jingo. Just four of the many great instructors at this years USK Chicago Seminar. Look for Team Orange at USKPorto2018 next month!

The first morning of the workshop, Uma and I had a chance for a warmup. I sketched a brownstone hidden behind some trees, and a very random choice – a second-story window. You could just see the hair salon through all the reflection.

This little palette really is the best thing for clipping to your painting. It’s so light, It makes holding the book/board so easy.

I did a quick run around my demo spot, to pick the view. At a workshop, a spot where you can fit 15 students is not the same as where you might stand on your own. This 5-minute doodle was just a test. I did a few views this way to find something that might work.

It’s always a little traumatic – trying to paint and lecture at the same time. Day Two, having had a practice run, it’s always a better piece.

The only demo I had a chance to attend myself was Mike D’s, Sketch NOW, Think Later!

Mike is an experienced presenter. He brought a wireless camera and an iPad, to project his sketchpad to the people in the back row. Brilliant!

One of the best things about a USK workshop is that you can sketch all the other Sketchers, without worry you’ll be caught drawing someone.

Wes Douglas – has a great workshop on drawing cars. I regret missing that one! Cars are such a part of street sketching.

As I’m from Montreal – someone recommended the writer Lousie Penny. Mysteries set in Quebec. These kind of notes get written right into the sketchbooks.


Day Six : #30x30DirectWatercolor 2018 : Water Tower

Another Nothing View!

I’m having too much fun with these. They are so against-type for me. It’s almost a joke among my friends – any Gothic church or over-the-top opera house is a ‘Marc Sketch’. I would never paint something like this water tower! But here it is, and it was fun to do :)

This is a slice of Highway15 Sud that we end up crawling past due to our eternal bridge construction. It’s painted from another drive-by photo – another example of Bad Photos make Good Paintings. We’ll see if, by the end of 30×30, that can become an official rule around here.

I was going to take progress shots, but I got distracted and only have the one. Anyway, here’s how I started – right into the water tower. It’s such a prominent figure in this painting, I guess I couldn’t start anywhere else.

Post Script: Here’s a couple false starts, trying to get in a quick one of this scooter. For some reason, I’m obsessed with failing at drawing motorcycles!

I wasn’t going to show these, but I was feeling guilty. I mean, there was some big talk at the beginning about showing everything, success or failure :) I dunno, about these. They’re a bit rushed. I might try again later.


Day Seven : #30x30DirectWatercolor2018 : Montreal Spring

You really can see St. Joseph’s from everywhere on the island.

See it in the distance there? There’s supposedly a city by-law that no structure can be taller than the top of the mountain – just to keep this view intact.

Confession: this was painted, once again, from a drive-by-photo. In fact, I did it yesterday, right after the water tower. That’s how we’re getting 30 paintings in 30 days! By using every free moment! Even if it means doing three in one night to get ahead :)

What went right?

I’m super happy with the adaptation – the simplification, and stylization of negative space, turning what is otherwise a Nothing View, into a painting. I’m slowly realizing what has been working for me with these.

If the view is about nothing – you’re free to change anything.

When you’re painting an architectural portrait of a well-known landmark – maybe you feel, you have to get it right? But with this kind of casual snapshot, I can do whatever I want! Haha!

What went wrong?

You know – right now, I’m ready to say – nothing!

At this stage, after so many false starts this week, I’m pretty much in love with this painting.

It’s not perfect, but it’s in the spirit of what Direct Watercolor is for me.

Painting by instinct, making silhouettes, and letting the pigment move freely inside shapes.

Quick tip: These last few days with rainy skies – I’ve been doing these by pre-wetting the sky shape with clear water, then charging into the damp paper with a milky mix of grey-of-grey, indigo, and touches of turquoise. While I’m painting the sky, it’s the only wet shape. The blue hill for instance, is dry. So the water can go crazy in the wet sky, and won’t enter the dry land.



Day Eight: #30x30DirectWatercolor2018 : Drive by Painting

Driving up Dr. Penfield, behind the McTavish Reservoir. I love the fact that a water tank in Montreal comes with a chateau. Isn’t this the best city for an urban sketcher?

I suppose the elegant roof-line makes this not quite a Nothing View. It’s halfway toward my old-fashioned architectural portrait. But you could call it a kind of action-shot of a building?


Day Nine : #30x30DirectWatercolor2018 : Failed State Buildings

Ah, overconfidence. Thy name is watercolorist.

Or something.

I mean, if we weren’t unreasonably optimistic, would we even be trying Direct Watercolor?

I had three false starts today! Which made me quite annoyed, as I was trying to paint our city hall – which I’ve painted many times before, and thought would be a piece of cake. But just couldn’t get it this time.

This is Fail #2. I won’t show you Fail #1.

I suppose this isn’t the worst thing ever made – but it’s cluttered, monochromatic, poorly proportioned, and far too pale! This is what happens when you try to draw nitpicky details – almost like a line drawing with the brush – instead of seeing shapes.

This is Fail #3. At this point, I just gave up. This initial shape was monochrome and way way too watery. It’s like a ghost! Someone suggested ice cream and I promptly gave up.

Out of desperation, we relocated behind the Gare Viger. Our old train station, which is now – I think, a convention center? – and shops.

There’s a pedestrian overpass that gives you a great view of the back side of the building. We’re looking over the parking lot in the unfinished foreground. It’s amazing that this old building is just as detailed on the back as the front. No budget-cutting in those days.

This view works for me, as it’s straight-on. No perspective problems! Much easier for my pea-brain.

My second rule of solving perspective. Move! Til you don’t see any :)

And, when I talk about false starts here – honestly – refusing to do a line-drawing before painting – insisting on going directly in with a brush – this is only being obstinate.

Some subjects really should have a bit of a drawing. These buildings are fantastically complicated.

I think, back when I was doing finished drawings underneath everything, these subjects attracted me, because of the complexity. All the cupolas and towers and clocks – something to sink your teeth into. Now that I’m doing Direct Watercolor – I’m getting more interested in painting the wider view. The city skyline, instead of a portrait of a fancy building.

But – struggling with the lack of drawing aside. When I *do* finally get one of these – there’s something about this spontaneous, calligraphic brushwork that I really love! It makes the torn up paintings (on expensive paper today! <oh, the pain!) just the price of achieving success.

At the end of the day, I know I could get better and better at tinting drawings. I probably should have stuck with that. I still might go back! But doing this stuff is taking one step back from draftsmanship in order to take two steps forward toward painting.


Day Ten : #30x30DirectWatercolor2018 : New Perspective

Ok! So. I went back and re-did my city hall painting – working from a photo back home.

This is pretty much the scene I failed to get on the spot – except – it’s about 50 yards further downhill. Got to remember the mantra: Get further away from the subject!

With the buildings smaller in the distance, it’s easier to treat them as simple forms with minimal detail. Just big shapes! I was previously getting lost on the details of the tower, the statue of Jaques Cartier on the plinth – there’s a clock on the front of the building, there’s decorative moulding and pillars on a balcony. Too much information!

All this stuff can be ignored when you pull back and paint the *entire* town square – not one individual building.

I still find this particular piece to be tentative. A bit of a shy statement. Dry and scratchy in some areas. But! I’m enjoying the brush-work calligraphy in the street vendors, and in all the windows and restaurant awnings on the far side.


Day Eleven : #30x30DirectWatercolor2018 : Bonsecour Market : The Old Port

So, let’s see if I can describe what worked for me in this dome. (Bonsecour Market, in the old port area).

Normally, I would paint the dome first thing, as it is the center of interest. But – as it’s a silver, reflective object, I wanted it to integrate with the sky.


A: I painted the sky first this time. My first mark was to cut around the bright, right-hand side of the dome, starting to draw the shape negatively, with dry, white paper.

B: I let the sky bleed into the shadowed left-hand side of the dome, and below, in the barrel, where the windows would later be drawn.

C: I *did not* cut around the little cupola on the top of the dome. Because I knew I would put that dark shape on top of the sky later. (Using bloodstone genuine, (an opaque-ish pigment), after waiting for the blue sky to dry). In general, you shouldn’t cut around such a tiny shape. You’ll never get a smooth sky behind it. This has to be done in one go.

So – in all cases – the shadowed left side, the bright right side, and the tiny gaps in the cupola – I made the right decisions, multiple moves in advance.

Pats self on back.

It’s the little victories that keep you motivated!


Day Twelve : #30x30DirectWatercolor2018 : Montreal’s Paifang

This one felt great to paint. The whole operation was quite smooth. All decisions happened spontaneously without a lot of debate. Sometimes I sit there thinking – omg, should I do this, I’m about to wreck the thing, what if this stroke is too much, bla bla bla. When you’re in the zone, there’s none of that. Your mind is quiet, and the image just appears without conscious thought.

That’s the beauty of being on Day 12. The continuous daily practice really feels good.

Here’s what I did to prepare.

I’ve been having so many false starts this past 12 days – I thought, why not make it official? Do a test painting. A dry run, just throwing it down to feel how it will go. Knowing in advance this one was disposable, I didn’t get annoyed as it got all blotchy and overly contrasty.

I do these tests, or false starts at the same size as the final – 1/4 sheets. Some people might say to do a small study. They’re probably smart. I’m always gambling the study will turn out and become the finish.

Here’s another new aspect – starting with the shadow pattern. Usually, I lay the shadow in on top of a base tone – following the concept of Larger>to>Smaller, Lighter>to>Darker.

This time, I started with a very faint statement of the gate – just a pale pink stain – so I could get the position on the page.

Then washed the sky – very wet in wet – and almost immediately the ground – and this time, I blasted in a honey consistency shadow, while the ground was damp. I think that worked out tremendously well – the shadow is more integrated into the ground than I might sometimes see in one of my sketches.

I think having done the test sketch, I could make the general shadow shape with confidence, kind of knowing already how it should go.

The rest of the painting is calligraphic strokes, getting progressively darker, smaller and thicker (in the mix).

I’m super happy with the clean and direct Large to Small Light to Dark execution.

The wetter than usual (for me) first pass is a nice contrast to the crisp shapes on top.

I did have to wait a long time for the first layer to dry before I could move to details. If I was in a rush I’d paint two at once, so there’s something to do while waiting for washes to dry.

When I’m on a trip I’m always a bit manic – knowing I only have one day on location. Here at home, I can just read for 10 min while things set.


Day 13 : Progress Report : #30x30DirectWatercolor2018

We are approaching halfway through #30x30DirectWatercolor2018.

I didn’t manage a painting today – but I have some stuff to talk about :)

How is it going so far? 


I mean – I’m feeling good about it – now that I’ve had a few successes.

I was frustrated at first. For whatever reason, the first few days I was rushing myself and expecting too much out of each piece.

But things are clicking along. The skills are tuning-up just as planned.

Last year I attended a week-long life drawing workshop <warning, artistic nudity NSFW) which was a similar experience. This feeling of getting more capable each day. So, I knew this would be a thing, and frankly, this whole project is just a huge excuse to make that happen again.

Time for a formal confession.

Something I didn’t really spell out, and I’m not sure if anyone should even care about.

But – in actual fact, I did my 30×30 a month before you guys. I started May 1 instead of June 1. I think a few people probably already suspect this, just looking at the state of the leafless trees and grey skies in the first week’s images.

So – these posts about my daily progress – they’re coming from an alternate timeline where I’m already finished, and know the end of the story. <Please forget you know this, and just enjoy the artwork ok?)

I felt this little dodge was necessary. I had to know for sure I could both organize the event, manage my share at home, get ready for Chicago and Porto, and still get you some nice paintings.

Regular readers know we’re in a bit of a sticky situation. My stepfather went past the point of no return with early onset dementia, and we’re helping with the home-care. So, that makes things unpredictable around here.

And then there’s this:

I’ve been defining myself as a travel sketcher for almost 10 years now.

This event, #30x30DirectWatercolor2018, has been a kind of ‘gut-check’ for me.

What I’m seeing here is, calling myself a travel sketcher isn’t a good fit any longer.

Certainly, I’m not living up to the title of urban sketcher, considering the artistic rigor of the USK Manifesto.

Which, of course – I’m in complete support of the ideas behind I was there when we were defining the movement, and I’ve learned more than I ever hoped, living by that credo.

But – if we just look at the first half of this marathon, despite my hopes – there’s just not much painting on location happening. By my count, only 4 out of 12 were painted from life.

Again – I’m not sure anyone should even care, or what I will do about it, but – that’s the status report right now, as we approach the halfway point.

So, anyway, I hope you guys are sticking with our little challenge. Maybe leave a comment and tell us what you’re feeling about the experiment so far.




Day 14 : #30x30DirectWatercolor2018 : The Urban Sketcher Redux

Old Port Montreal. Can you spot why this is an extra-fun sketch for me?

Here’s some process.

I start with a Dot Plot <read more about this trick here) but only worrying about the focal point, not the entire painting. I cautiously draw the tiny backlit house at the end of the street – and then blast in the big shadow side. I always say – slow on the edge (of a shape), fast in the middle. The idea with the big shape is: get it wet enough to have some natural settling in the paint, and to get through the entire shape without any pesky dry edges inside.

There’s a second big shape on the lit side, some made up clouds that look like ACK ACK in a WW2 comic, and finally the fun stuff! The calligraphic marks on top of the big shapes.

My thing right now is how abstract I can make the little calligraphy. So it reads like buildings, maybe people and cars, but it’s not overly rendered.

Did anyone guess the joke?

This is the same street on the cover of my first book, The Urban Sketcher – published four years ago. I’m kind of amazed at the difference. Really it’s 10 years difference I suppose, as my drawing style took years to develop, and was already changing by the time the book was in print.


[ The Parking Garage Series, RAMP TO LEVEL 3 ]

Day 15 : #30x30DirectWatercolor2018 : Breakthrough!

We were going to the mall, because, that is what you do in our society, and I was on the lookout for compositions for 30×30.

There’s nothing more Nothing View than the inside of a parking structure. Concrete slabs, pathetic fluorescent lights, salt and oil stains.

What is going on with these Nothing Views? Maybe you can tell me?

Possibly they’re a reaction to all the pretty houses and beautiful views I’ve painted in the past. You can get bored of anything, even beauty.

Perhaps they’re about my current life situation? (Day 13’s moment of truth, if you missed it).

Mostly it’s just – I don’t have any exotic destinations on my radar, but I still gotta paint. The obsession doesn’t go away.

If the travel sketcher can’t travel, you find new ground below your feet.


 [ The Parking Garage Series, CLEARANCE 7’2″ ]

Day 16 : #30x30DirectWatercolor2018 : Parking my Expectations

So, I was talking somewhere in these posts, about how the Cycle of Preciousness works for me.

You’re worried about your painting turning out, but, the more you stress the more you hate it, until finally, you give up. You’re going to rip it up, quit painting forever.

That’s when suddenly things flip.

It doesn’t matter now, so you just TRY something. Something wild. Something irresponsible. Some crazy thing that’s never going to work.

That’s me and watercolor right now.


 [ The Parking Garage Series, HANDICAPPED PARKING ]

This little series is asking:

How would you paint, if it didn’t matter whether they turned out?

What would you do if you didn’t care if anyone liked it?



Day 18 : #30x30DirectWatercolor2018 : Guest Post!

No Post Today! I’m tied up with some contract work.

I do have a mid-point update from Suhita for you!

Suhita Says:

At the halfway point of #30x30DirectWatercolor2018, and I’m looking back at the half-month with some thoughts.

If you aren’t a natural direct-watercolorist, (I’m not!) then this is a HARD challenge! To see exclusively in shape and yet keep a piece from being overworked takes a whole lot of focus. The impulse to just pick up a pen and finish the piece is strong!

Some subjects are easier to get loose with because they’re forgiving. Like this landscape with simple perspective.  Knowing I didn’t have to get the “drawing” right meant I was free to focus on capturing the feel of the blazing heat. I couldn’t resist painting in the two figures: to me, they add a story to the piece.

I was quite pleased with this next piece because it combined many challenges for me: painting a person/people without line, creating the feel of space and activity without getting too specific. And, the piece is darker, literally, than a lot of what I paint.

On other days I just took it easy and painted stuff I understood well and had painted before. Like this skull that sits on my studio table, a ready model whenever I need one. I lost painted this on the wrong side of a sheet of Arches paper.(The other side was used for a rather unsuccessful piece). Doing this totally takes the pressure off creating a ‘good piece’ and it’s amazing how much it adds to flow and looseness. if only I could convince myself to work like this more!

All my piece use white gouache. I use it like I would another color, and while I try to save my big whites, I never save smaller ones if I feel it makes me work tightly just to keep the white paper.

So what have I learned so far? (Besides that this is hard work?)

  • Seeing in shape-first is slowly becoming less difficult.
  • I am enjoying watching watercolor move on the paper with no line to hold it within bounds, and I’m learning a lot about pigments and transparency in the process.
  • If I hang on for another few weeks and work at this, there will be more insights and progress.
    Suhita Shirodkar
    Instagram: @suhitasketch

Day 19 : #30x03DirectWatercolor2018 : Single Line Evolves to Single Shape

Hey! I went outside for an entire day of painting!

Just little postcards. Done on the run. Taking my time, strolling and sketching like a tourist in my own town.

Pretty amazing hey. (When you get a chance to do that).

Things are topsy-turvy around the house. (#eldercare #forgetaboutit). Any given day, something random can derail all plans.

So I made a deal to go off on my own for the entire day. Running around our old neighborhood – taking only a few drawing boards and the Art-Toolkit mini palette.

These are two-up on a 1/4 sheet. So that makes them about 7″ wide and random in height.

There’s nothing too serious going on. Just having fun, out on a beautiful summer day, making puzzle shapes. Trying to connect a block, or set of houses anyway, into a single broken-shape.  (Thinking back on this, this is kind of a color-version of an old exercise of mine: Single Line Sketching).

Well, sort of a single shape, but with some tiny white gaps to allow for edges, and, then going back and re-stating darks.

When I’m just having fun like this, the shapes get a little wiggly. No consistent perspective.

I kind of like the randomness :)

It’s fun to look at how much my drawing has changed. Here’s this same spot from my pen and ink days.

Just one slice of a concertina sketchbook, done back in 2015.

I have to say, in support of Maria’s clever invention – this is why I love the Art-Toolkit mini-palette. I’m getting old enough to want the lightest possible paint-box if I’m going to be holding up the drawing board for a full day. It’s kind of amazing how much difference this small thing makes – not having a full-sized box clamped onto the corner of your board.

It’s always the same: the less you bring, the more you draw!



Day 20 : #30x30DirectWatercolor2018 : Broken Silhouette

I’m stretching yesterday’s mini-sketches into the second day, by giving you some step-by-step of this broken silhouette.

By the way – by my count, that’s 22/30 paintings on day 20! So we are even a little ahead of target!

How is everyone else doing?



Day 21 : #30x30DirectWatercolor2018 : Little Big Painting

Day 21, and we’re at 23/30 paintings!

I have a size that I’m the most comfortable with. 1/4 sheet. (11×15″), or even a little smaller.

It’s the scale where I have an instinctive knowledge of how much paint to mix, how far wet will travel, and what my typical brushes will do. (#3/4 DaVinci Artissimo Mop and #7 or 8 Winsor and Newton Artist’s Watercolor Sable Pointed Round).

When trying for larger paintings, I have to inch up to them.

Painting a few 1/2 sheets to warm up, then failing a few times at full sheet. Until gradually I’m ‘tuned’ for the larger brushes and bigger paint puddles required. It’s kind of weird how you get used to things.

I suppose what a person should do is paint a full sheet every day for 30 days :) That might be something to do….in the future…sometime…much…later.

So anyway, I failed this one a few times at 1/ 2sheet size. Tore them up. Painted this little one at my familiar 1/4 sheet.

And I didn’t even use the whole sheet. I’m infected by instagram – looking at all these squares.

BTW, This one was painted from a phone shot, taken from the observation deck of a local college at the end of the USK symposium in Chicago last year.


Day 22 : #30x30DirectWatercolor2018 : Mental Holiday

Day 22, we’re at 25/30!

I wonder if you will be surprised to hear – I’m getting a little tired of watercolor.

If you’re still with us from day one, you might be feeling the same :)

I try to stay positive around here – but this ridiculous project is getting to be a second job :)

Who’s crazy idea was this? hey? I feel like I need a holiday!

So these paintings are done from cel-shots taken on our family trip to Laguna Beach this past Dec.

Laguna has to be the nicest place in the world. In every sense of the word.

Say one thing for Laguna – it’s relaxing there.

So – this is what it looks like when I paint for relaxation.


Day 23 : #30x30DirectWatercolor2018 : So close I can taste it!

Day 23, 28/30! <soooo close!!!

You may recall me saying; If it gets tough, we can always cut corners and do some little ones :)

These are 3-up on a 1/2 sheet, so that makes them about 7″ high. Post-card sized.

I can taste the finish line now. Tried to paint something more serious, but gave up and just jumped ahead with these super-fast mini’s. I was really tempted to just finish today – but – this filled the only sheet I had taped, and I still had to scan. So……

So – what’s interesting about these?

They’re done with a very quick underpainting – very messy – which I then spritzed down with an atomizer bottle. (The one I use to mist my pans in the paint box). That’s what’s giving the bled-out edges and weird dripping.


I dunno.

Just an experiment, done out of frustration. I was thinking – ‘these are not doing it for me’.

‘Maybe I’ll trash ’em but – – – what if I do this. *spritz *spritz *spritz’.

Edit: I just remembered when I figured out this trick. Back when I was drawing in water-soluble ink. <spritzing first shows up in this old post].

I went back in and tightened up the focal areas with opaque-ish-strokes. But I kind of wish I hadn’t. It would be neat to see if I’d left the misted-out stuff alone. Whether they’d have stood up to later examination.

By the way – the reference photos for these came from @castellidelmondo on Instagram. I don’t know them. They seem like one of those re-poster channels on IG where they re-broadcast anything they find in their niche.

Just the thing for random inspiration! Nothing wrong with that when you’re on day 23 of a painting exercise.



Day 25 : #30x30DirectWatercolor2018; FINISHED!!!

Day 24, and at 32/30! < FINISHED!!!

Whoo hoo! Ding Ding! *Confetti Cannon!* *Throw’s Streamers!*

All of a sudden my marathon is finished!

I was thinking I’d wrap up with something easy like a set of selfies – but the day opened with great weather – and Laurel told me to take advantage of it – so I spent the entire day in my favorite place: the cemetery.

It’s really my favorite place to sketch. It’s quiet, they have beautiful grounds, and there’s plenty of sculpture to draw. There’s no better place for idling away a day.

People ask ‘do you paint every day’ and I usually say, ‘no, but pretty close’, or ‘no, but I try for that’.

Well, in fact, being honest, for the past six months or so, I’ve probably only painted one out of seven days. I didn’t realize how much putting out a book, and cutting back on teaching (and those unending demands of elder care) would conspire to subtract painting from my lifestyle.

This 30 day project, and all the activity surrounding it, has been an incredible return to the old days.

It’s been at turns frustrating, exhausting, satisfying, and inspiring.

I was putting too much pressure on myself at the beginning. As the instigator of this event, I felt like – hey – I better make a good showing!

You really can’t do that. Demanding public successes will only send your talent out on strike.


But as the days went on, it stopped mattering, because the painting started to get really interesting. It got hard enough to keep going, that I stopped caring about what other people would expect, and started painting entirely for myself.

I was expecting to get tuned up. For my hand skills to improve. I was expecting those kinds of gains. But I surprised myself with this mental shift.

Here, at the end of this grind – I’m quite tired! But also deeply satisfied with what I accomplished. And (like any marathon runner) – I’m ready for a good rest! But I’m inspired to get back at it as soon as possible!!! I want to start applying myself to some serious painting!!!


Finally – I want to say – there are still five days left.

I hope everyone is feeling like – if they’ve made it this far, they can make it to the finish line!

Let us know how you are doing. Keep posting your stuff up on facebook or here in the comments. I will do my best to get on there and be more active in the last few days.

I’d be very interested to hear from people, as they finish up their 30 – maybe take a day or two to think about it – and let me know what are your final thoughts?

What did you get out the experience? Would you do it again next year? Are you going to keep painting! (We don’t really need these challenges do we :)  But, I’m looking forward to hearing about other people’s endgame!

And I want to touch base in the next few days with the others. (Maria, Liz, Uma, Suhita and Anne-Laure). Finally, I’ll have time to go and have a good look at what they’ve been doing.

Ok, it’s late here! Talk to you soon!



#30x30DirectWatercolor2018 Guest Artist Wrapup

All too soon it is over! All great things must come to an end. We’re back to our everyday bland lives, with the post-partum, end-of-challenge depression.

Or are we?!?

Of course not!

I think everyone is maybe glad to be done the marathon? – but – filled with a new excitement for watercolor, and – surprised at our own ability to push forward.

I’ve been hearing variations on this theme from all over the world.

Here are a few quotes from our 3000 fellow 30×30’ers:

Hi Marc. I finished my 30th on Saturday. I think it has been a hugely valuable experience – some of the paintings I made towards the end – and since – are things I know I couldn’t have done when I started – it’s had the effect of loosening me up, and making me start to realise some of the possibilities that watercolour offers. So thanks! ~David Clark

That’s about the best feedback we could hope for David!

I’ve begun approaching almost all my other sketches with a brush instead of a pencil or pen! In the beginning, I’d reach for the pen, thinking “It’s okay It’s not for the challenge.” Then I’d say, “Why not sketch directly anyway?” In the last few days, it was only after I’d completed a sketch that I realized that I’d done it with watercolour only – without thinking. What did you do to me Marc? Thank you. ~Cheryl Wright

Hah! Well, of course, you did it for yourself Cheryl :) But yes! It’s great we have this online community to inspire each other.

And of course, this is a natural response from Sandra too.

It has helped me realize just how much I love (read depend) on pen and ink line…this is really hard.. so this is purification through suffering?.. I read that in a Russian novel…I have learned lots (such as ‘where is my fountain pen?” !!!!!!!!!!!!) glad I have attempted it however..thanks so much. ~ Sandra P MacDiarmid

I want to close out with a look at the other five Direct Watercolorists.

I had been meaning to check in with the others much more often, but of course, the Facebook group took off so well, and then it turned out it was next to impossible to do anything ‘extraneous’ during the marathon – so! I’m just now getting a real look at how their 30’s went.

I found the climax of the push surprising. (Day 16 was the ‘peak’ for me). The paintings went in a completely different direction than I expected.

So I asked each of the others the same thing:

“What was one surprising thing that you learned as a result of our grand experiment?”

Maria Coryell-Martin:

1) I surprised myself by loving hot press paper for direct watercolor sketching. I’ve previously had very little experience with it. I love the rapid drying and how smooth my strokes are.
2) I surprised myself by enjoying the rhythm and patterns of architecture. Painting buildings around my town in direct watercolor, I gave myself permission to let go of precision and total accuracy. I loved it and the experience has built my confidence for what subjects I can sketch.
3) I surprised myself by how much sketching I was able to complete while out with my nearly 3-year-old daughter. With her own sketchbook, it’s something the two of us can enjoy together. I have to work quickly and am sometimes distracted by requests to draw kitty cats and polar bears, but much more is possible than I previously realized. <How nice! That’s a great thing ~m]

Uma Kelkar:

Two things I learned:
1) People don’t like borders/limits but do like to have goals. We collected 3000 people!
2) Nobody needs a pencil, everyone can draw with a brush. Everyone. Eventually.
I learned the following of myself:
I am quite disciplined. Without the challenge too, I do force myself to practice – owing to limits of work-life balance I cannot always make it, but I’ve set up systems such that only bottlenecks are my career choices and dependents. Meaning, I am ok, I shouldn’t beat myself up anytime soon. <Exactly! this 30×30 is not sustainable – (for most of us :). We all need to learn how to practice art as part of living. Well done you! ~m]
Liz Steel:

The biggest surprise for me was the fact that the challenge was much easier than I expected. (I achieved 41 direct watercolour sketches – 11 in the last 5 days).

Granted I was travelling so I have been sketching all day, 6 days a week anyway, but I still expected to find it hard. Also, even though I start my sketches with paint 99% of the time, trying to resist adding my beloved lines was hard. However, I discovered that if I ignore the first urge to pick up my pen, then it’s relatively easy to stick with the paint. <Of all of us, you’re the fastest / most reliable sketcher (we have sketch-dueled to prove it, I admit defeat :) But also, VERY adept with line weight and edge variety. It’s impressive how you can add a new thing (tone shapes) to your ongoing process without skipping a beat. ~m]
Suhita Shirodkar:

I guess my big takeaway is: Do challenges that are outside your core strengths! Not only will you see lots of learning, but also, not being the expert means you feel free to experiment and to fail – both of which are fantastic learning experiences. <So true. Like a shark. Never stop moving. Expand the comfort zone :) ~m]

Anne-Laure Jacquart:

I would say: “You don’t need ideas. Inspiration is just HERE, when you pay more attention”.
Before the challenge, I wrote down lists of subjects, approaches, books, or online feeds to browse, I gathered some photos, in the case I would need some inspiration.
Once I started, I barely used anything at all.
I paid more attention, about what I could paint, so, when it was the right moment, I already knew what to do! Or, because I was trying to paint everyday, as soon as I saw something, I decided: “stop doing anything else and paint”!
So, that’s it, just pushing ourselves to think more about watercolor is enough to give us plenty of ideas!!
I am even thinking: let’s play this game even when we don’t paint! This would be my last advice, I guess. :) Think along the day: Oh, this would make a nice painting! – Hey, I could paint this with Green Apatite Genuine (!) – Gosh, this would make such a wonderful negative shape! – Hey, what if I could try to recreate the texture of the sand or rocks with my paints?! – Wow, the light is so gorgeous at this time of the day! – Today, if I had painted, it could have been the bananas on my counter… and on and on and on…
Feeding our inspiration that way, we would never run out of ideas, for sure!


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