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#30×30 Day 06 : Green as Broken Glass

June 6, 2021

These sea-green shallows are from a rocky beach in California.

My ‘inspiration oil’ is one of my very early impasto paintings, painted in 2017 after visiting the Algarve in Portugal. We were there a bit too early in the season. It was much colder, much more stormy than I expected out of a trip to Portugal.

Here’s the paintings side by side for easy comparison.

And here’s a close up detail.

Interesting hey?

They are very different in feeling and effect – but, I see the same impatient gestural hand at work. My painting-brain is the same, even if the surfaces are day and night.

In the watercolor, I love what the floating pigment creates. Blooms of lighter weight pigments, versus the sedimentary effect – the settling of tiny grains of sand, dropping out of the water, accumulating in the low spots in the paper. It’s almost a model for the real sea.

In the oil, I’m enjoying the freedom to make flecks of sea spray or jagged bits of rock, without having to play the careful dance of negative painting. The leaving out of highlights – all that thinking ahead like a chess player. With this particular painting, I remember coming back and re-working it a few months later. Something that’s impossible with watercolor.

Yet somehow, a watercolor can be a light and breezy sun-washed thing, that so far, doesn’t happen naturally for me in oils.

I realize there is nothing stopping me from making high-key oil paintings. But, it’s this question of what is the natural strength of each media. I have been striving in my personal work to make watercolor more dramatic. More moody, with greater intensity. Perhaps, that’s going in the wrong direction! Maybe the watercolor should stay here, in this happy place, and leave the stormy seas for the oil paintings.

#30×30 Day 05 : Death Valley, Nocturne

June 5, 2021

Ok this is something. This is something.

It’s a bit early yet at Day Five – but this might be my favorite of the year. We shall see!

Whenever we are in the area (which, I have no idea when that will be again), we make it a point to go to Death Valley. It’s really quite a fantastic place. This isn’t exactly the best view of the park – but it’s the kind of desert painting that I love. The strange desolation, decorated with dried skeletons of plants.

This is the inspirational oil, Pull Over Anywhere and Make Art which was painted from a ditch on the side of the road half way between Laguna Beach and Joshua Tree.

Again – I’m not really trying to duplicate the oil – but to make a watercolor with a similar spirit.

I started this watercolor with a grey blue sky that washed down into a cool sandy color.

This is breaking my own rule – intentionally creating an under-tone! That’s not alla-prima!

But – Always be Breaking Rules is a personal motto. And motto’s trump rules, so it’s ok.

I know the whole thing about the desert is the heat. But if you’ve ever been in Death Valley, it’s freezing at night – and especially when you get up for your wife’s early morning photo expeditions.

This Blue-to-French Grey undertint created a magical ‘desert nocturne’ which I was able to use through the entire painting. There really is something to putting down an under-wash and painting over it (when it’s dry). This is as opposed to the purely Direct Watercolor method of working into the white paper. So – there we go, rule breaking.

This one would more honestly be be wet-on-dry, or Tea Milk Honey as I used to say quite a bit, rather than a pure Direct Watercolor, which would be alla prima.

I think I said something before about how I don’t really care for delicate transparent watercolors. But – every once in a while you come up with something that is quite amazing, and you have to admit – subtle isn’t always ‘weak’.

It’s possible that I say these things because I don’t really know any better.

Transparency – who cares! I like my aggressive drippy water experiments! Go bold or go home!

But then, when you get ahold of some new skills – like mixing more subtle greys, and pre-mixing enough pigment to pour the whole sheet (things I would never do in the past, when I was working in the field with a 3×5″ travel kit) – then you might find yourself changing your mind about things.

This is the heart of this painting for me. The ghosts of some desiccated bushes. If you’ve ever been out there in the desert, you’ve seen them too.

And here is a weird mushroom rock.

So that was Day Five!

Thanks for following this year’s #30x30DirectWatercolor. It’s already going places I did not expect.


#30×30 Day 04 : Cloud Shadows

June 4, 2021

I think, this time, I forgot what it was I liked about the subject.

Here is The Watercolor vs. The Photo vs. The Oil Painting.

In today’s watercolor (on the left) I’ve accidentally emphasized the hill in the foreground. In the oil painting, (far right) I made the correct choice – to melt the hill away, and emphasize the dark passage of cloud shadows in the distance.

That dark ribbon pulls you into towards the horizon.

In the watercolor, the dark hill is a stopping point in the mid-ground, which I don’t like as much.

I should have looked at the title for the oil: Cloud Shadow Runs a Black River. That would’ve been a reminder why I liked this view. We went out more than once to this location. There’s a huge red mesa behind us – a giant castle of stone. It’s an impressive place, worth photographing in different light – and a fun place to hike. But I always preferred turning around and looking over the vastness of this plain.

I do have to say though – nothing beats a sky done in watercolor!

I’m a person who paints intentionally sharp edged paintings in oils. I don’t go out of my way to blend colors. I’m more interested in placing strokes.

A watercolor has a beautiful interior softness that you don’t get in impasto.

There’s no reason I can’t have the best of both worlds – and one day I will! But today, this sky is one comparison that shows watercolor at it’s best.

Ok, I’ll show myself out with some close up details of my Day Four. More abstractions found inside the landscape!


#30×30 Day 03 : New Mexico High Water

June 3, 2021

I quite like the abstraction of these rock formations in New Mexico.

The trick is making them into a painting that reads. Here, my main goal was using color to make clear depth planes. Each major step back into the painting’s layers has its own color, with the color change getting more dramatic the further away we go.

I should say – the trick with abstractions like these rocks, is probably allowing yourself to paint them EVEN MORE abstractly. I expect one day I will push this kind of stylized landscape even further.

I hope one day to put aside representation entirely – but I’m not quite ready to try that. I’m still too in love with narrative painting. (Or still too connected to ‘what the viewer thinks’.)

An older artist once told me – everyone who keeps painting long enough, ends up painting non-objective abstraction.

I think it’s a natural reaction to the state of the art-world. We’re inundated with photographic (and digital) imagery these days, and it’s about to get worse with AI generating imagery. (Don’t believe me? Mark your calendar – five years max we’ll have AI creating infinite landscapes in our movies and video games, and synthetic AI characters on television.) (I mean, we actually have that already. I just mean it will be commonplace, and convincingly real.)

So, that’s kind of ok weird right? AI generated content is going to replace (or de-skill) concept designers, architects, and industrial designers – just like self driving cars and rolling drones are going to replace long haul truckers and delivery drivers. But – that will mean we should have more time for personal art making? Possibly? Hard to say.

Anyway, this topic is going way off into left field! So that’s my Day Three, and I think I’m popping over to the Facebook group now to see what you guys are painting :)


#30×30 Day 02 : New Mexico I’ve Never Been

June 2, 2021

I am of the mind that, if we’re going to bother to work in traditional media we should use it for it’s strengths.

When we think about watercolor, for some people that’s about transparency. They choose the media for it’s delicacy, and the ability to make soft transparent layers that gradually build up a controlled image.

Not me! Hah!

To me, the real spirit of watercolor is the fluid dynamics.

What water will do when it’s spilled, when it’s splashed, or when it drips. This is what I mean when I say ‘Direct Watercolor’.

I woke up thinking, yesterday’s work was far too conservative. So this is where I’m at today. Going a bit wild.

Ok, I admit, this isn’t the most successful painting I’ve ever made. But I still like it. I’ve chosen it from a few false starts today.

When you’re trying to break out from a place of timidity, or, a literal interpretation of a photo (which I find boring to undertake), you have to take risks – and that means you have to decide in advance to be happy with the result.

You have to go in with a ‘panning for gold’ mentality. Open to what the experiment produces. Not trying too hard to control the results. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself unwilling to take risks, and therefor, unable to advance.

If you can believe it, this is today’s watercolor vs. the ‘inspiration’ in oil. It doesn’t look like they have anything to do with each other does it?

Thing is – I remembered this oil painting of scrubby trees against a cliff wall – but I’d sold it a while back, and I couldn’t actually compare them till I dug into my photo files and found it. Clearly, I’d forgotten the very strong red-rock colors that dominate the painting.

I only had my memory of the idea – these twisted desert bonsai blending into the landscape.

Maybe if we just look tree-vs-tree it makes more sense.

Maybe not!

Anyway – that’s my Day Two of #30×30.

See you tomorrow!


#30×30 Day One : On Blocks Laid By Giants

June 1, 2021

Hello everyone! Welcome to Day One of the 2021 watercolor marathon!

As we begin this month long project I think it worth thinking a bit about a *structure* for your project.

Every year I try to establish a set of ‘rules’.

An approach I will try to follow for as long as I can stick with it. Almost inevitably I do deviate – especially near the end when I get tired. But still – having an over-arching goal – besides just ‘paint every day’ is very helpful.

When we first started doing #30×30, it was easy for me. I was already used to doing daily painting on location. Urban Sketching was my first love, and travel is a great motivation to make art. You’re seeing new things, exploring a place, finding the views. It’s also the way I learned to paint. The university of trial-by-error and painting-against-the-clock – the sun waits for no man! You learn a lot in a very short time by painting on location.

In year two I experimented with imaginary compositions – inventing abstract landscapes, This was a big reversal for me, and an important step to becoming a studio painter. It was really a dry run for what I would do for the next two years learning to paint in oils. It was also a bit eye opening, because I quite accidently discovered I held some very strong opinions about landscape painting, and a very clear vision for the project appeared instantaneously, without any effort on my part. It was all there, I simply had to make the time to put it down on paper.

In year three – it was 2020, and #30×30 coincided with the beginning of the COVID lockdown here in Montreal. I had become quite used to being in the studio, so the quarantine actually gave me permission to just stay inside, painting from photographs. Looking back, it seems my goal was to take on the most difficult watercolor problems I could find. Mostly things I’d failed at painting when I tried them in real life. It was a good distraction from the early quarantine. But to be honest, it became more difficult to make work that was purely ‘technical’. I feel I learned a great deal about Direct Painting that year – but it was also the most frustration I’ve given myself in quite a while.

That sort of thing is far too stressful for 2021. I’m just not up to that right now.

This year, I need something where the paintings are a relief from the terrible news around the world. Not a challenge to whip myself with, but rather – a painting holiday.

So, this is my plan for 2021. Returning to places I’ve been on holiday! I’m going to be (mentally) re-visiting some of my favorite paintings (done in oils), and doing a new (improved?) version in watercolor.

With this exercise, I hope to discover some things about what I love in the two different media.

Why I might do something in one, that I would do differently in the other. And what underlying things that remain the same, even while the painting process is complexly different – things like composition, concept, and narrative.

Possibly – we’ll find these two artforms aren’t as different as you might think.

So! This (above) is my 24×24″ impasto oil painting On Blocks Made By Giants, I’m Big as the Sky, Small as a Beetle.

Here’s is a side by side comparison. Watercolor vs. Oil.

Of course, it’s not exactly the same view. I’ve mislaid the original photo. And, I’m not patient enough to duplicate the painting exactly – more like, let’s do another one that has the same spirit.

What I loved about this place was the contrast between massive blocks of stone where we stood, and the wide empty chaparral flowing out to the distant mesa.

I see I dramatically exaggerated the horizon in the oil painting – turning it into a distant mountain. That’s the Canadian in me. There are no mountains like that in New Mexico. Not that I saw anyway.

Here’s a couple more comparisons. These are not to scale, but they show the same kind of painting problem, and how I’ve handled it in the two media.

For interest sake, here’s the reference photo compared to the watercolor.

This is like a game of spot the difference :)

What’s changed? There’s color choices of course. The painting is cooler over all. The photo was close to sunset, and I may well have processed it in the past to be more golden. With this watercolor, one of my big concerns was the huge shadow in the foreground. I made it pinkish, instead of grey. I think it suggests some kind of bounced light – and it relieves what might have been a huge dead spot right in the middle of the frame.

This composition by the way is a crop from a larger photo. So that odd situation, with 1/4 of the frame being this cube of rock – that’s the way I want it. Not an accident :) I don’t know what you guys think about this choice – but, given an opportunity, I’ll often choose to make something that balances via asymmetry.

What else – – lowering the main midground group of rocks for compositional reasons, and adding an imaginary pinnacle in the distance – to give your eyes something to leap to – kind of a stepping stone on the way to the far horizon.

Can you see the dotted line from the very tip of the cliff, to the distant pillar, and the glint of light on the mesa? Follow the breadcrumbs to the horizon!

These are the kind of sneaky depth cues that can make a painting draw you in to its imaginary space.

Oh, wait – I did find the other photo reference! Another game of spot the difference!

Interesting to look back to 2019 and see myself making the same kind of changes. Small but important adjustments in major lines of direction within the composition, and some ‘artistic invention’ to create a visual target on the horizon.


That’s my first watercolor of the season, and the journey towards making it.

I’m already working on the next one!

I hope you had a great day, and made yourself something fun and inspirational – and – I hope you’ll be posting it to the Facebook group so we can chat :)

Take care and see you tomorrow.


#30x30DirectWatercolor 2021

May 30, 2021

Ah, 2021 – you beast of a year! Here we are, approaching the peak of summer. That means it’s time again for #30x30DirectWatercolor.

This is, of course, the annual event where I strive to make thirty paintings in thirty days – in an effort to inspire you to do the same!

I’ll be posting my work to the blog here, but of course, the real action is in the Facebook Group, where we invite you to post your own work – and to comment on the things other people are sharing.

So please – stop by and comment as often as possible! You’ll be helping yourself, by helping others!

Over the years, our team spirit has carried hundreds of participants across the finish line. But – even if you don’t produce thirty finished works – possibly you’re only making a little sketch each day, and that’s a win! No matter how small the sketches – the feeling of taking time for creativity ever day is the real reward.

Maybe you need to find a sneaky solution that fits your present reality – such as the time I wound down the clock by doing 15 tiny abstract paintings in a single day

Whatever it is you do, the real goal is to be thinking about art every day.

For many of us, art is a thing we do to bring joy into our lives. There hasn’t been very much joy in my last 441 days, since the first public health emergency here in Montreal to present day. We’re still in lockdown, still a red-zone, but with the end in sight! 73 days till my scheduled second vaccine!

But of course, just getting personally vaccinated doesn’t mean we’re out of the pandemic. There is still a lot of stress. We realize it may be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to reach the goal of daily painting this year.

I fully expect this year to be a smaller, quieter year than past #30×30’s. There may be fewer of us who have the energy to throw down for a marathon – and I think that’s fine!

I personally will be making much less of a ‘grand production’ this year. No video lectures, no demonstrations. Just painting and posting, and of course commenting every day on what you guys are sending to the group. That’s my main goal this year. To help everyone who has time and energy for the event to have a great experience painting together.

So we’ll see you soon – starting June first!

See you again in a couple of days!


Day Five: #OneWeek100People, 2021 – Living up to the Challenge

March 12, 2021

It’s Day Five of #OneWeek100People, and, while many of you have hit your 100, I have been swanning about making pretty watercolors.

I wanted to be making 20 paintings a day, to be on track to 100 in five days. In fact, I only hit 20 on day one, then it was 10 a day for two days, then three on my ‘worst’ day!

That’s not not really living up to the challenge is it?

If the goal is learning as much as possible, in a reasonable amount of time – well – you really need to go back to the basics.

Does that really matter? This magic number? Shouldn’t I be trying to make the BEST picture I can every day? What is the point of twenty ‘lesser’ sketches instead of one ‘finished’ drawing?

It comes down to what do you want to be learning I suppose.

I feel like there are things I am training, by doing a lot of work, in a very short time, that I can’t learn any other way.

The hand-eye coordination that is developed by direct pen and ink – this is the same thing as the all-in-one-go approach which we call direct watercolor painting, and those skills in turn absolutely apply to the work I’m doing in oils. I couldn’t create the paintings I’m making today, without ten years of these underlying skills.

So – in the spirit of ‘How to get to 100’ – Here’s a short video demonstration of a pen and ink drawing.

I hope you’ll see what I mean. How a direct ink drawing can be a simplified model for alla prima painting.

It’s all about seeing the edges of shapes, and eye-balling proportions, and the placements of shadows. (Which create the illusion of volume).

Whether you’re drawing a line around a shape, or blocking-in with a broad nib (or marker), or making a watercolor wash – the edge you are observing is the same contour.

Learning to draw these shapes, or learning to fill them with color – these are two sides of the same coin.

So don’t worry if you’re not doing 100 full-color paintings for your marathon!

You’re probably learning more, if you’re doing sketches in ballpoint, fountain pen or markers – because you’re getting more experience with seeing, in less time.

So , thanks one last time to everyone who participated in this year’s #OneWeek100People!

And – maybe I’ll see some of you back for our next big event – #30x30DirectWatercolor – in which we work together to create thirty paintings in thirty days, during the month of June.

Take care, and we’ll see you over in the Facebook group. I’ll be around all day, congratulating people as they cross the finish line!


Day Four: #OneWeek100People, 2021 – Sketch vs. Painting

March 11, 2021

Day Four! Today I only did three pieces. Which is a bit anti-marathon-ish.

One was a dud, which I won’t show. The other two – well I like one of them! The other – less so.

I find these art marathons have a natural arc.

I start out sprinting – just having fun with it. Feeling a bit stiff, but enjoying the feeling of warming up. Soon enough you’re watching the images roll out under your brush like magic. You start to say, hey, these are getting pretty good – and gradually – you end up taking things too seriously.

Not just gratefully accepting the good ones as they appear, but straining yourself – trying to make great work ‘on demand’.

Loyal readers will know, I have an aversion to trying too hard.

You can’t make your best work when you’re concerned about success or failure.

The very act of thinking about the outcome creates an anxiety that holds you back from a daring move, that makes you afraid to touch a good-bit, or more likely, unwilling to stop when it’s truly great. You don’t always recognize it immediately. You hope one more (rash) move might make it better – and then – you’ve overworked it. You’re scrubbing-out or scraping-back, trying to save it – and you’ll always know you blew it, even if it looks pretty good in the end, and nobody will ever see what you had – before you lost your nerve.

But that’s the game.

We’re training our hand skills by running this marathon, but – we’re also training our judgement.

The more pieces you do in a row, the more shots-on-goal. The more likely you’ll learn to recognize when it’s time to push something – or – when you need to stop and let something stand as you’ve made it.

[Photo Credits to @uriah_forest and various unknown models]

I’ve used Uriah’s excellent photography as the basis of many of my experiments this year. Without permission admittedly, but – while I hope he and his models don’t mind – on the other hand, I feel a study from other artists’ work is fair game.

This is the nature of artistic practice. We need to look at things, and grow by the gradual process of absorbing what works for us and leaving aside what doesn’t. Any artist that says they’re self taught, or they’ve invented something from nothing is fooling themselves.

Ideally, we’ll find everything we need by working from life. But life today includes the constant stream of images on social media. For many of us, this virtual world is more rich and rewarding than our actual day-to-day existence.

There’s another balancing act there. The basic need to acquire skill – let’s call it your artistic vocabulary, versus later, the point when you should be thinking more about *what* you have to say, than the mechanics of *how* you will say it.

Ultimately – a copy is only a copy. It’s not a work of art. It’s a study.

So, that’s what I’m thinking about today, at the peak of this year’s #OneWeek100People. I think tomorrow I’ll just cool down and finish up the challenge with some pen and ink sketching. Thanks for giving me a soap box for my thoughts! I hope you guys are posting your work. I’ll see you all in the Facebook group!

Thanks, ~ marc

Day Three: #OneWeek100People, 2021 – Hitting Stride

March 10, 2021

[@lee_r98, Instagram]

Hey everyone! Crossing the half way mark for some of us?

Liz Steel and I like to do #OneWeek100People in five days, rather than the full seven. It’s a thing – she doesn’t work on Sundays. Which, I think is a very good policy for life.

So – this is exciting. I really haven’t done any watercolor [looks back at the blog] since the beginning of September. So that’s six months away from the medium. I have of course been painting in oils, and done some digital work here and there. But still – I always find it takes a few days to get back in tune with water-media.

[Emily Mack, Sktchy]

[Jasper Means, Skchy]

But it hasn’t been hard to jump back in.  I have a strict policy to love everything I make.

I mean – I’m very critical of my own work. LIke – I can see why this one isn’t a great painting. But I think it’s crucial that we are 100% impressed with our own efforts. It is exactly as good as I am capable of being at this moment in time. The act of making something from nothing, this is an automatic victory every time.

If we don’t insist on this mode of thinking, how are we supposed to find our own voice? Decide what works for us. What is going to be intentionally imperfect, intentionally unreal – choosing to step away from reality, in favor of creating a new image we might want to live with.

[Photo credit, @uriah_forest. Model, unknown]

[Van Lozito, Sktchy]

This is something that I think can only happen during an art-marathon such as #OneWeek100People.

The process of working every day, for a week straight, (or a month – in the case of #30x30DirectWatercolor) – this does two things. It fine tunes your reflexes. The hand-skills of painting. Much like a musician doing scales. Painting is a physical skill that needs to be kept in tune.

But at the same time, the grind breaks you down. You stop caring quite so much about an individual piece.

If you sit down to make one single masterpiece – I think you can’t avoid freezing up. I get anxious about how it’s going to come out. I can’t be free to create by instinct.

If you’re going to make 100 works, you can’t (or I can’t) force myself to worry about each and every one. In this way, the unconscious is unlocked, and the work rises above the limits of perfectionism, to reach a new level.

I hope this feeling is clicking for some of you? Maybe it will by the end of the week. Let’s keep at it, and keep posting our work to the group. I’m interested to hear from you as you close in on your 100’th person.

How did you feel as you sketched your last figure? Think about it and let me know!

Thanks, ~Marc