Direct Watercolor Strategy #1: Pick a forgiving subject

So you’ve decided to do the Direct Watercolor challenge?
Or you’re on the fence because direct watercolor is a bit scary? Not quite your thing? Well, it’s not my go-to method either, which is exactly why I’m doing the challenge.

I figured I’d put together my list of strategies for getting directly to watercolor. They’re probably things you know already, but reminding you (and me) might make the difference to taking the leap and trying this, right?

Strategy #1: Pick a Forgiving Subject
I love painting people. But get that little dab of paint that indicates the nose in the wrong place, and you’re not going to be happy. So why not pick something that’s forgiving? That allows for mistakes and is still believable?

Like my jade plant. Because who cares if a leaf or stem goes awry? And if there’s 7 leaves where there are only 6?

This is about the point at which I reach for my pen to “finish” the piece. Why? See that big fat leaf where the stem color runs into the leaf? Normally, I’d run a line there to separate the two. But do I need pen for that? I could use a darker paint. Or just not go that route because Do I need separation for you to call them a stem and a leaf?

So instead of adding a dark I decide I’d like to add some of those little rim lights that are on the edges of leaves, and that’s what I do. With white gouache.


Which brings me to this other thing I’ve found useful to remember:
Don’t sweat the whites. 

Whenever possible, I’ll leave my whites out. It’s true there’s a beauty to white paper in watercolor. But when leaving out a white gets in the way of a bold stroke, when I think I’ll slowly and deliberately paint around a white, then I’ll gladly exchange it for a bold stroke and come back later with a stroke of gouache.

I looked back through my recent work to see what other “forgiving subject” I had painted in direct watercolors.  Besides plants, landscapes figured big on my list.


That’s Strategy #1: • Pick a forgiving subject
on my list to help me go straight to watercolor.

I’ll be posting more strategies from my list soon. If you haven’t joined in yet, join the Direct Watercolor group on facebook here.


Posted in challenge, Paintings, Supplies and Materials, teaching, tools, watercolor | Tagged , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Weekend in Yosemite: Part 2

More from Yosemite National Park. This is a less-known view of Mirror Lake. Its probably only weeks now before it dries into a meadow. The more famous Mirror Lake vista reflects Half Dome in the still waters, but I sketched this with Half Dome behind me. You can see I did a little bit of line first, mostly to place everything to scale in the scene.

We stayed in Half Dome Village (formerly called Curry Village) and those tents are pretty iconic. This piece is watercolor-first and some line in Derwent Inktense pencils.

And then there’s the more mundane sketches, waiting for lunch at the Pizza Deck. squirrels underfoot everywhere. We didn’t feed the squirrels: signs everywhere explain that pizza is really unhealthy squirrel food, and how it makes the squirrels obese and then the mountian lions come down into camp to hunt this easy prey. Not good for anyone!

I won’t usually touch a piece once I’m off location: even unfinished ones stay that way. I feel I have a hard time keeping the freshness of on-location work when I’m working on somethig later. This is a rare one I added darks to when I got home and I’m not sure I like it any better than the original.

The dogwoods are in bloom right now. I love that flower: like the California poppy (another flower I love) it won’t last if it’s cut and brought inside, so you have to enjoy it in it’s natural setting.

That’s it from my weekend in Yosemite!

Here’s Part 1 of my trip, if you missed it.

Posted in california, Close to home, Summer, Travel, watercolor | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Weekend in Yosemite: Part 1

We did a quick weekend trip to Yosemite for Hari’s birthday. Our timing couldn’t have been sweeter: the weather was warm enough for me to enjoy sketching outside (which means it must have been close to 70 degrees), the waterfalls were glorious and the dogwoods were in bloom.

I had just switched up a whole bunch of colors in my palette, literally hours before we left, which always makes for an interesting experience, since some of those colors I’d never used before. But travel sketching with a brand new set of colors also means you get to know them quickly! I’m posting these sketches in the order in which they were sketched and I think you can see I wasn’t sure how to mix those colors yet, particularly in the first few ones…

Lower Yosemite Falls. Not much of a hike, but always spectacular, in spite of the crowds. Also, always cold from the spray off the falls.

Sometimes I really can’t make a sketch work. This small corner of one of a gurgling stream is the only piece I liked. I’ll take a corner I like, it’s still fun to make the sketch, whether it works or not.

No Yosemite trip is complete without a sketch of Half Dome. See that slash of Aussie Red Gold? A new color for me. I love it, but have yet to know it well enough to not get carried away with it…

Later that afternoon at a sandbank by a river. Luckily my kids will still build sandcastles if they find anything resembling a beach. They played. I sketched. Hari napped (he’s not in the sketch).

I toyed with the idea of paddling down the river in an inflatable dingy, but it was just so much easier to sit in the sun on the bank and watch Yosemite Falls (see it?) in the distance…

A few more sketches from Yosemite, coming tomorrow.


Posted in california, Paintings, Travel, watercolor | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

30×30 Direct Watercolor: Are you in?


I’m joining  Marc Holmes , Liz Steel, Uma Kelkar, and Anne-Laure Jacquart in this watercolor challenge in June.
The challenge? 30 paintings in 30 days of June. Quick, Direct. No fuss. Big or small. On location. Or not.
Why? Because there’s just nothing like sustained daily practice to make improvements at something.
I’ll try to paint a watercolor piece everyday in June.
And I’ll post to this facebook group ( Join if you think you’ll do the challenge):
You have 15 days to fuss with your palettes, decide on themes and clear time in your calendar to do it! Or you can just jump in without a plan and paint (which is really the best bit)
I think I’m set since I just refreshed my palette last week. See this link to my Supplies page to see what’s in my current paint palette.
I’m excited to be doing this. I’ll be posting my daily work and thoughts here on my blog.
Join me?
Posted in california, Close to home, Everyday Sketches, Paintings, tools, watercolor | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

June Workshops: Vegas and San Francisco

After a longish break from teaching workshops, I’m back! Here are two workshops in June, one in Las Vegas and the other in San Francisco.

They might look similar at first glance, but read carefully: one is an Urban Sketcher’s workshop, taught on location and the other isn’t. Details below.


Capturing Chaos: Drawing a Crowd
An Urban Sketchers Workshop

Location: Las Vegas (exact location to be announced)
Date: June 11th, 2018
Time: 5:30 pm to 8:30 pm

blogpostheader_capturing Chaos_vegas2018

Do you walk into busy crowded places and feel overwhelmed at the idea of drawing them? Is it hard to see where to begin a sketch of a place so full of people, movement and chaos? Do you wish you could capture the scene without being overwhelmed by it? This workshop will help you do just that by breaking down the process into a series of simple steps.



Gesture Drawing – People in Motion
A studio-based workshop

Location: Arch Art and Drafting Supplies (10 Carolina Street, San Francisco)
Date: June 23rd, 2018
Time: 1:30 pm to 3:30 pm


This is NOT an urban sketching workshop. It is specifically designed for those who find learning to draw people from life too intimidating. This class will introduce you to gesture drawing and teach you the skills needed for drawing lively drawings on location. But we’ll learn in the safety of a classroom, using still images and video. This should help you see, understand and capture figures that look full of life, so you can take those sills with you when you’re out sketching next!

Workshop fee includes the cost of instruction and a supply kit.



But first, I’ll be teaching this watercolor journaling workshop in the Santa Cruz mountains with Gay and Nina, and I’m super excited about it. (The workshop is full, but you can ask to be waitlisted)

All my workshop information is always available on my Workshops page. It’s looking like a pretty full summer schedule, so if you’re interested in requesting a workshop contact me to book on for Fall 2018 (September  onwards).

Posted in california, Close to home, How to, people, san franciso, Supplies and Materials, teaching, Workshop | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Downtown San Jose

These three pieces are from last week when I painted with Nina KhashchinaThis one is at San Jose State University, such a beautiful, green oasis in the middle of the city!


We moved on to the San Jose Museum of Art. I’ve always wanted to capture that bold lettering on red. Glad I finally got to do it. And, I got to draw some palm trees to boot.

Here’s another take on the museum, seen through the trees at Plaza de César Chávez. Art Graf watersoluble graphite, watercolor and pen.

Posted in california, Close to home, san jose, Silicon Valley | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

Negative Thinking

A few months ago I did a wonderful negative painting workshop with Brenda Swenson. It was fantastic to paint in a style so different from my own. I came home inspired by the luminous quality of Brenda’s watercolors. But I was most intrigued by how much she works like a sculptor, carving an image out in negative shapes.

I find it takes a long time for concepts like that to really seep in and start to show up, even in small ways, in my work. Breaking from my usual urban sketches last week, to do small mostly black and white studies at home has been good for me. I’m back to putting brush to paper more and I was pleased to find some thinking in negative shapes showing up in these studies.succulent

I can see bits of it here too, in how my son’s uncut hair becomes a big black helmet-like shape that forms his face.

And more subtly in this portrait of Bethlehem, who I noticed because she and I were the only two people in my local cafe with sketchbooks, not phones.

And here’s yesterday’s life drawing piece, in ink and watercolor.

A workshop with a good teacher is a gift that keeps on giving. Thank you, once again, Brenda. I’m betting this won’t be the last time I’ll say that.


Posted in california, Close to home, Everyday Sketches, How to, san jose, Workshop | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments