Skip to content

#30×30 Day 19 : Black Hills, White Water

June 19, 2021

I’ve been saving this one. I’ve been looking at this one for ages wanting to try it in watercolor, but held off until I felt ‘tuned up’. It was worth the wait!

I feel like this one is the best example so far of something that is 100%, absolutely, equally, good in both media, despite being completely different in feel.

That’s what I’ve been waiting for! Something satisfying about that!

I had a terrific time painting this one. All the elements clicked. The pigment and water were moving under my brush like dance partners. It was a joyful painting to make – regardless of the dark ominous colors. I enjoy the drama, and don’t find these wintery images depressing at all. I have one of these near-black paintings hanging over my desk right now, and I look at it every day with great enjoyment. It’s not stark or cold, it’s dramatic! Operatic! :)

I might want to frame these two and hang them side by side. It’s quite fascinating to look back and forth between them.

So, just in case anyone’s interested, here (below) is the digital collage I made to paint from. Both paintings, oil a few months ago, watercolor today, are done from this sketch, which was done in Pro-Create on the iPad using screenshots of various found images.

I think it’s fascinating how, when you’re just making an image to paint from – a digital collage (with some paint-over) is not meant to be ‘finished’ so you can be quite creative with shape and design.

This step – making the ‘mockup’ on the iPad – was essential for finding the composition. Watercolor is not like oil or digital. You cannot be 100% free to experiment. So the ‘finding by doing’ has to happen in a different media, or, in smaller ‘throw away’ sketches.

In some ways – despite all the odd artifacts in this quick photo-bash – it kind of says all the same things as the final painting. I have to ask myself sometimes – why even bother to make the finished work? You could just print and hang this on the wall! From across the room, I promise you, it has the same feeling.

Unless of course you get inherent satisfaction from the act of the making.

I think that’s my take away from digital art. You have to enjoy the process of making the thing. You have to have internal motivation, a deeper feeling of creativity, or kind of life-affirmation from art making. Watercolor does that, in the nearly magical way it moves and develops as you watch. It’s a kind of alchemy, a kind of magic, that isn’t there in any other kind of painting.

That’s worth remembering, and experiencing for yourself! Otherwise, the specter of digitally automating all your hard work is always there, offering you the easy way out.

#30×30 Day 18 : In the Fog of Art

June 18, 2021

Here is another experiment in my quest for watery effects!

I’m not sure how much there is to say about this :) It’s in some ways a very simple painting. Almost no color, and almost no drawing. Just a matter of splashing down the pigments. And I suppose, knowing how the water will move.

The art here is more about knowing what composition you want – here it is a graphic diagonal, almost a yin yang. (Which I never realized is a symbol for the cycle of day/night – moon and sun – eternal cycle – I suppose that’s obvious when you say it, but I just read that online. )

It’s like dealing with a difficult boss or a willful child. You can make suggestions and the water will take them under consideration. But you know their habits, so you know what kind of suggestion might work today :)

Well, there is one thing I’d like to say – which is that this painting was inspired by a photo by @Hannes_Becker, on Instagram.

This is probably going to get me into trouble, but – I’m just in the process of applying for some watercolor competitions, and this question of Derivative Works is on my mind. Specifically the fact they are almost universally NOT ALLOWED in the big watercolor society competitions.

I’ve talked before about how I’ve done a complete turn-around from what was taught in the 80’s and 90’s.

I no longer think that derivative work, (that is, making new work that begins with another person’s art – usually a photograph) is artistically ‘weak’ or ‘cheating’.

I realize we’re gaining something from the other artist’s color sense, or their composition, or even their choice of subject – but at the end of the day, this is no more than we would gain by looking and thinking about art.

And – aside from something silly like tracing, or printing-out and drawing-over, each artist has to develop their own hand skills before they can make a derivative work in the first place. So, whatever we have borrowed is very small in comparison to what we had to do on our own.

And yes, we are taking advantage of the time, energy and money photographers spend getting to locations and bringing back images. I admit – this theft of time, or poaching of access to locations, this is less defensible – but – ultimately – I have to choose art over commerce.

Because, that is not an argument about infringing another person’s artistic rights, but more about them protecting their business investment.

While I see the point, that it’s very expensive to be a photographer, I suppose I have abdicated that concern. Paintings have to get made, and I am getting too old, and my time to paint is slipping away every day. It is equally expensive to be a painter, and the photographers borrow equally as much from art – where do you think composition comes from? It’s not a law of nature, it’s a cultural practice. A tradition.

In any case. I feel that if nobody was allowed to paint a thing they have never seen in person – well – what we would lose in paintings made, and artistic talent developed, is greater than what the photographer loses in this situation.

At the end of the day, I’ll just say – let’s not be so worried (or embarrassed) about making derivative art.

And I hope we can put an end to banning it from colleges and competitions, and simply critique it, or jury it, as you would any work.

If it’s Bad Derivation you can say so. If it’s Good Derivation, you can ALSO say so.

There’s nothing about painting from found (or researched!) inspiration than is any less creative than standing in a garden and painting yet another flower, or going in the studio to paint yet another portrait.

If you accept the values of traditional art (hand skills, formal painting concerns) – which the big materials societies by definition do – the watercolor clubs and the pastel societies, the oil painters associations and the figurative painting leagues – all of these bastions of tradition clearly accept that art is derivative of history. As traditional artists who paint and draw, we have accepted rules about composition and color theory, we have techniques and tools that have been used for centuries – all of this is handed down from the past, in the same way as subject matter is handed down.

It is rendition that is unique to each person, not the art form or the language of art. Just as every musician might start with the same sheet music, but every performance is unique.

So, that’s my thoughts for today!

Here’s Wikipedia on the definition of Derivative Works if you want to gain from a informed opinion on all of this.

And, thanks very much for posting your images @Hannes_Becker!


#30×30 Day 16 : #NoMakeup

June 16, 2021

So I’ve just finished a little digital tweaking on this one.

Ok – maybe more than a little :) This is what the original painting looks like.

This is the result of a complete miscalculation on my part. Mixing with far too much water, and completely the wrong pigments.

When I first started in watercolor. this used to happen all the time. Things turning out significantly lighter than I wanted. Turns out this was just inexperience. Too much water, not enough pigment. It’s a classic error.

After all, you are told these are water paints, so you put in a lot of water!

That’s what I did today, because I was premixing, and – I don’t know, I wasn’t paying attention, so there you go.

Back in the day, even though I was quite frustrated, I said to myself – I know it’s possible to fix this. I’ve seen all the old master’s watercolors – Sargent, Homer, etc. They can get the deep, rich color that I want. I just have to get over this problem.

Which, in the end, was eventually solved by only using fresh tube paint, keeping it misted with an atomizer bottle – and most importantly – making an agreement with myself that I’d use enough pigment, no matter what the perceived cost!

You can’t be afraid of using up a tube of paint! Otherwise, you might as well not play this game.

Well, that – and I also added a whole range of darker pigments to my paint box. I use five shades of black these days, depending how you count it. (Here’s my list of pigments).

But – there was a time in between when I still trying to figure out what I didn’t like about those pale paintings.

I was a professional digital artist long before taking up watercolor. so it was second nature to turn to the computer to diagnose the problem.

I would take the paintings, like this one above, and start building up contrast adjustments, hue-shifts and saturation changes.

You can do some of this on your phone these days – all phones have some basic controls for manual editing color and contrast by value range. Change just the shadows, or only the highlights. You might use an iPad app like ProCreate, or – I use Photoshop on my PC, because I’m used to it from my old day job.

Either way, this kind of image editing is a great way to see exactly what you want out of your painting. And, gf course, the same thing goes for cropping, or cutting and pasting and creating a new composition via collage.

Once you can see what you want, it’s much easier to redo the piece – and maybe break away from any problems with your original reference.

#30×30 Day 15 : Boiling it down to the Essence

June 15, 2021

I started in here with the goal: What can I do with watercolor, that I couldn’t do in any other media?

This one is all about pouring on premixed colors.

And, when I say pouring, I don’t really mean pouring. It’s more like – holding a cup of paint over the painting and ‘ladling it on’ with a big mop.

Just to walk through the process: I take my (plastic) 30ml medicine cups (I got a box of 1000 as a hand-me-down, but I’m sure you can find something equivalent? I hope?) and I pre-mix the colors. Squeezing paint right in the cup and adding a little water at a time, mixing them with a small palette knife.

I keep all my mixes-in-progress in a shallow plastic box on my desk, so if I were to spill one, it wouldn’t go far.

With these paint mixes, I’m aiming for the consistency of wasbi – because there will still be water in the brush or on the paper so I don’t want to over-thin. But – if it’s a sky wash, maybe I’ll go more like half-and-half creamer.

I keep the dregs of every cup and use them to make other colors. If a color goes unused for a long time, it can often be re-constituted. Just mix new color right on top.

Often, I’ll make two or three cups of each color, to know I have enough. I’ll batch mix them. You take an extra empty cup and begin pouring half of one into the other and back again repeatedly till they’re all cross-mixed – this ensures all the cups are exactly the same color.

I have to say, I’m certainly getting this premixing approach from my oils, where I tend to mix up large piles of paint before I start, aiming to eyeball how much I’ll need for the whole painting. The paint stays good for days, so you might as well. Also, if you do need to mix more, it’s easier to match a color if you don’t completely run out.

What’s the big benefit of these pre-mixes? I think I’m doing a better job on color sensitively. I’ve gotten used to a more complex/neutral color range, less of a out-of-the-tube experience.

Ok, enough talk, here’s some detail shots!

Here’s the only touch of pure pigment – that iron oxide there. Something I’m used to doing quite a bit! But – if you only do it once on the entire painting – it’s quite a strong statement.

Here’s a reserved white shape. Normally I would have these all along that row of trees, making them sharp and well defined. This time, I wanted the entire tree line to soften naturally. To melt into each other, and into the sky.

Here’s some scraping with the palette knife. This is absolutely something that came from my oil paintings.

More scraping. If you do it when the paint is wetter, the pigment invades back in and turns the scrape into a raised line.

OK! So that’s my Day 15.

I’m very excited here. I really think this is one of the best water-thing’s I’ve done in a while.

I absolutely understand if it’s not your cup of tea. It’s kind of an intentionally ugly painting :) But I like it! This is something I’d hang on my wall.

This is the big deal with #30×30. It’s a true testament to the power of daily painting. If you can carve out the time to do this – and it *is* a big deal – who has this kind of time? But if you can make it happen – working every day, letting your brain sleep on the paintings, and going right back to it the next day – it works at an entirely different level than once a week painting – or worse, doing only a handful of big paintings a year.

This is my personal belief anyway. I know my brain isn’t the same as every brain – but hey, I can feel it working! So I can’t help but shout about it :)

So Okidoke – thanks for reading – let’s talk more tomorrow.


#30×30 Day 14 : Best of Both, Worlds Apart

June 14, 2021

As much as I enjoyed making those previous winter scenes – I was also a little – I don’t know, bored (?) with the results after a few days. Looking back – sure, they were made in watercolor, but they were not FULLY utilizing the effects of water.

This one here, is an experiment. Not a real piece – just a test. A study of what would happen if I pushed the values and the wetness. I couldn’t get to a place of complete satisfaction with this test. I tried a couple renditions that got scrapped. In the end, this version is tweaked digitally – I had to push the values down to where I wanted them.

I expect for many people, this isn’t something they’d put on the wall. It’s kind of dark right?? Probably too abstract.

But – I was looking at this old photo. It’s a place called Top of the World, very near Laguna Beach. It’s kind of a favorite spot in that area. I’ve painted it about five times before in various different ways. I wanted to try another version that was both 100% watercolor – and – as different as possible than all my previous takes on the scene.

The last time I painted this scene it was an oil. I took the early morning shot and made it into a kind of pre-dawn fantasy.

As much as the watercolor is pushed into darkness, this oil is shifted into a imaginary light. I don’t know what kind of lighting that is in the painting – maybe it’s how a nocturnal animal sees the pre-dawn. Just an invention of a place – only loosely based on what you see. But the basis of the invention is brushwork – dabs, scrapes, broken color.

It’s hard to believe these pieces came from the same starting point! Or even from the same artist!

#30×30 Day 11 : The Road to Minimalism

June 11, 2021

This piece was started on Day 09 (you can probably tell – it’s a lot of the same colors in the cups) but I went back and finished it today.

I was looking back at photos of Baie St. Paul, and I thought – this one is a great example of leading lines.

The patterns of the fields – they should be perfect for one of my ‘high horizon’ paintings.

But, when I got started, I kind of lost interest in the foreground. Even though it’s what made me choose the picture in the first place. I think – A: the motion of the foreground isn’t quite ‘inward’ enough – and B: it’s a bit too much like one of my paintings :) It’s a bit like – I’ve done too many of these exact sort of things.

As much as I feel a person’s paintings should be consistent, (to make a body of work that stands as a whole, but also, to recognize what you are trying to make, and continue to improve on it), I also feel, they should not be repetitive.

You don’t want to become a cliché of yourself.

So – this is what I ended up with. I came up with these little dots – maybe they’re bits of grass, or shrubs.

Really, it’s a complete abstraction, starting with the real world, but ending up in a stranger place.

Out of context this might be snow, but it might equally be a desert. Or some alien planet.

I think it’s possible I’m losing focus here on Day 11. I’ve been painting at least two, sometimes three paintings some days, even if I don’t take all of them all the way to finish.

It’s quite normal to ‘burn out’ on the marathon around the mid point. I kind of enjoy this, because – I can feel myself getting annoyed, and that is always the stage where the next few paintings become a breakthrough.

#30×30 Day 10 : Winter Blues

June 10, 2021

Here’s a change of pace! April in Quebec!

I’ve been painting all these landscapes of New Mexico, Arizona, California – because these are the sorts of places you go when you’re escaping Canada in the winter. That – and my own natural inclination towards vast, open landscapes with very little in them.

But in fact, I do have a few winter paintings.

There’s a group of artists who used to meet every April in an area just north of Quebec city. We’ve gone a few times to paint along with them. This was very early on in my experimentation with impasto oil painting – as far back as 2015.

Looking back at a favorite piece from these trips, I see the same landscape. This was very nearly the same view. Within a few minutes drive anyway, somewhere near the town of Baie Saint Paul.

I think you can recognize the fields with the winter stubble, and the view of the bay in each, but, in the oil I’ve chosen a careful crop that avoided any trees. There’s no foreground at all – because of course, that kind of subject with a lot of intricate detail is very difficult to do with a palette knife – especially at 10″ tall.

It’s kind of a trade off – as much as I enjoy the powerful simplification in these small oils, I also love the opportunity to do calligraphic brushwork like these pine trees. It’s so much fun to get down into the details.

This is like the time back in 2016 when I was debating Drawing vs. Painting :) Now I’m debating transparent vs opaque, delicacy vs boldness, brush vs. knife :)

I guess I’m not going to come to any conclusions right now! But this is the purpose of the experiment I suppose :)

Oh, one last thing!

Look at that sky! I finally learned to make a flat wash!

You would think I’d have gotten around to this before now hey?

But honestly, in all my years of painting, this isn’t a skill I found necessary.

I’ve always worked small-ish, and with a very small travel palette, and always just mixed color as I go – often, just mixing on the page.

It’s only now that I’m getting around to learning how to do this kind of flat under-tone.

It’s not hard – you just need to take the steps. Mixing enough pigment in advance (I use little 30ml disposable medicine cups – because I inherited a few hundred of them). Pre-wetting the paper – but maybe waiting a bit till the gloss starts to fade and it’s not soaking wet – otherwise you get drips! And then painting in one quick passage across and down – and never never never going back and touching the wash. Never touch it! You will get a bloom!

So then you have this flat wash, and the undertones are there to show through the gaps in the other brushwork, making the whole painting more consistent, more ‘of a tone’. Otherwise, you will have pure white showing in gaps – which is great for some things, but not an area of shadow.

In any case, after this prep, it’s back to Direct Watercolor as normal.

By the way – I’m working on loose sheets now, which I don’t bother to tape down. They do buckle significantly with this ‘pour’ stage.

Now that I’m using so much more paint, I can’t rely on taping. In the past, I was a more controlled painter, so I didn’t get the tape wet. But, after a certain point, it’s just too much moisture and it loses its grip. So I’ve given up on tape entirely for studio work, and thus, sometimes I need to dry and flatten the loose paper before continuing to paint, and sometimes again after the whole thing is finished. (You can’t skip taping for location work though – no time to flatten – and more important, the wind is just annoying if your paper isn’t locked down.)

When you dry the painting with a hair dryer, it may curl up into a tube. I paint clear water on the back, and sometimes lightly mist the front, so the paper goes limp again. Usually the image is safe to mist, unless there is particularly thick paint – which will sometimes stick to the blotting paper, but that’s not normally a problem in an ‘impasto’ area. Ideally you won’t have a thick bit of paint on a person’s face or in the midst of a delicate flower.

If so, you might want to any thick highlights after pressing (even though I just do it and live with the results).

So yes – I put the now limp painting between many many sheets of cartridge paper, like, a half inch both above and below, to serve as blotting paper. It will wick the moisture away, and also press flat without impressions from the weight. I’m using newsprint moving paper meant for packing dishes. Then a sheet of plexiglass on top for superstitious reasons (it’s smooth), and a stack of books, or even better, plywood drawing boards on top, since, I have a lot of plywood boards from the days I used to staple paper down.

Leave it like that for a few hours and it comes out perfectly flat. Mostly. Sometimes there is a faint wrinkle, but you can do the process over again, or just live with it.

So that leads to another admission! I’m calling this Day 10 – but in fact, I’ve taken to doing the initial colored flood and leaving it to flatten. So, I’m actually starting an image on Day 08 or 09 and finishing it on Day 10, unless I happen to get a first wash done early in the day and can get back to it that evening. Many times, if the flooded wash goes too badly wrong, I will just tear it up at that stage and not even flatten it. Usually the issue is it’s too pale – or – I might have picked a wrong pigment and the wash is simply too intensely chromatic. Or – I just get a huge bloom in the wrong place. Many things can happen!

My advertised theory of Direct Watercolor is ‘as little preparation as possible’. Which is a mealy-mouthed kind of rule, because you can say things like – well, I really am doing as little as possible! Even when you are cheating like hell.

So that was way too much information! But that’s my writing style and I guess you’re used to it by now.

Take care and see you tomorrow!


#30×30 Day 09 : Dry Brush, Arizona

June 9, 2021

Today ends up being a study in making vegetation out of wet-on-dry brush marks. And also, ways to use color and value to break up shapes and revise lighting.

I’ve often said, you need to change color, temperature or value – at least one, sometimes all three, when you bring two shape edges together. So it makes a puzzle of interlocking shapes – even when an area looks uniform in real life – it doesn’t need to be boring in the painting.

This is my 10×10″ oil, “If You Look Really Close, It’s Just Paint“. It’s not really a direct inspiration for today, but it does share the spirt of turning reality into broken brushwork.

#30×30 Day 08 : Day in the Park!

June 8, 2021

We’re just back from a day sketching in the park with our old friend Shari Blaukopf!

It’s been at least 450 days since our lockdown began, and longer still since we’ve had a chance to sketch together.

Today was a huge reward! Sunny with a bit of breeze, if a little hot (30C / 85F, which is pretty warm for Canadians!) but it’s the height of summer, everything is in bloom, and we could finally get together to paint at an old favorite, the Japanese garden at the Jardin Botanique.

You just can’t beat a day spent making art with friends!

Of course, I’m showing off studio work for #30×30 this year, and I’ve gotten very ambitious with the paintings – which is rewarding – pushing yourself – but let’s not forget this kind of small sketch. Just having fun! That’s how I learned everything I know today.

I always say, the most important thing an artist can do for their art, is the thing they love to do. Whatever you can enjoy, day after day, year after year – building one sketch on the other, gradually becoming more fluent, more aware of your abilities. That’s the only way to stick with art for the decades it takes to see your potential.

Today was a great reminder not to take everything too seriously! Enjoy the artist’s life when you get a chance :)

#30×30 Day 07 : The Wandering Path

June 7, 2021

I didn’t have a specific painting for inspiration this time, more like, a kind of composition I find myself returning to.

This is a classic device – the idea of shaping the landscape to make a wandering path which leads the viewer into the painting. It’s something I do all the time these days. You might think I’d get tired of it, but I never do. I love to look back at my pictures and follow these pathways out to the horizon.

Maybe it’s there already – after all, you got to the view somehow right? You were probably following a walking path already. Sometimes you just need to take what’s there, and make it a little more obvious. Clean up the edges, make it a little easier to see the path.

Combine that with distance planes, made by desaturating and blue shifting the color in clearly defined bands, and you immediately have the illusion of depth.

All righty! I hope you’ve had a great day of painting. See you tomorrow!