Archive for January, 2014

Keeping It Simple

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014

Simple isn’t easy. It can be remarkably difficult to simplify a subject when we’re tempted to include every detail of an appealing scene.

I’m often tempted to jump into a painting too quickly, incorporating details that I want to be sure to capture in the finished piece. But that’s not necessarily the best approach. Once the details are in, it’s difficult to do justice to the rest.

131204a Gondolieri

In fact, it’s easier to get the overall image right if I begin with flat colors, focusing on accuracy of major value changes more than on form or even hue. It’s a truth I have to remind myself of with every painting I undertake.

If I begin with the values, I can then indicate flat shapes within those values with a change of hue, and from there adjust the saturation to suggest depth and form.

This approach is easier to use when painting with opaque media, such as oils or acrylics. These media permit over-painting to adjust colors, add lighter details, and refine edges.

Transparent watercolor, on the other hand, demands more careful preplanning to reserve smaller areas of high value within the lower-value masses. The transparency precludes much over-painting, beyond judicious glazing to intentionally layer colors. (Injudicious layering too frequently merely leads to the age-old bugaboo, “mud.”)

I used this approach when I painted “Gondolieri” (#131204, above), first in acrylic and then in watercolor (#131205, below).

131205w Gondolieri

In neither version did I take the detail far enough to clearly depict features within the subjects’ faces or to include the clutter of unnecessary detail behind or around them. The intent was not to portray specific people but to show the overall gesture of their stances and their relationship to each other. As you would expect, details do vary slightly between the two paintings. Though they are obviously based on the same photograph, the image for each was drawn freehand, and I treated each painting individually, working with it according to what it suggested to me as it developed.

The Pleasures of Teaching

Wednesday, January 1st, 2014

I love to teach. Sharing my own pleasure in painting and helping other adults find pleasure in it as well excites me and keeps me motivated to improve my own understanding and skills. Sometimes it’s a real challenge to keep ahead of my students. But that’s satisfying, too, because it means they have been benefiting from what I’ve taught. The challenge keeps me studying, delving into the “why’s” and “how’s” so I can explain more clearly what we see happening on the paper. Understanding the theoretical principles and physical phenomena more deeply, myself, gives me greater control over the medium, and thereby improves my own skills even as I help my students explore their capabilities.

But more important than any of that is developing my students’ confidence, teaching them to relax and enjoy the very process of painting.


This month marks the beginning of a new teaching season. Because of the transient nature of our community, some students may attend only a few class sessions, some a weekly class for a month or two, and others may attend all twelve weekly sessions. Some of the students will have never painted before. Others will be returning students seeking to hone their skills. Yet others may be experienced, well-trained artists who are looking merely for encouragement and motivation to return to painting regularly. While I feel that one of my responsibilities is to teach beginners the basics of watercolor application, without overwhelming them, I also want to provide enough fresh information and guidance to keep the more advanced students interested, motivated, and challenged. Because of returning students, I avoid repeating projects from year to year, so I’m always on the lookout for fresh subject matter for our exercises.

Difficult? Stressful? I’m tempted to toss off a casual “No prob!” But the fact is that planning for such mixed classes takes considerable forethought and preparation. It forces me to establish clear goals for each session, and then provide appropriate projects that can be approached with a wide range of degrees of difficulty to meet those goals at a variety of skill levels. But once we get into the classroom, I tend to adapt each lesson to the specific students attending, the questions that arise during the demonstration and work sessions, and to suit the unforeseen needs of the situation. That approach keeps us on track while keeping everyone relaxed enough to enjoy our time working together. And yes, we do have fun!

It’s always exciting to meet a new group of students. Some are eager and full of questions and observations, some quietly focus on mastering the skill of the moment, while others are gregarious and regularly share their frustrations and successes with friends seated nearby. Each mix of students is different but represents to me an ongoing opportunity to grow as an artist, a mentor, and a colleague. I can hardly wait to meet this season’s mix! Will you be joining us?

I’m also available to teach private classes in SW Florida. Email me ( for further information.