What I learnt in June

So what did I learn from the  Direct Watercolor challenge? A lot. About direct watercolor painting, of course. But also about how I paint and see, and how I like to work.

The month-long challenge was actually much longer than a month for me. After I agreed to do the challenge with Marc , I knew it would be, well, challenging: Direct Watercolor is not my default way to work. And doing a piece a day in a technique I am comfortable in is very different from working outside my comfort zone. So I did a series of posts (mainly written for myself) to remind me of things I could do to stay on track with the challenge. Here are those 5 posts:

Strategy #1: • Pick a forgiving subject
Strategy #2: • Do a Small Study First
Strategy #3: • Don’t Stop at One
Strategy #4: • Zoom and Crop
Strategy #5: • Paint something familiar

Some strategies just helped make life easy (“Pick a Forgiving Subject”) and some made me push myself to redo something that I didn’t think worked. (“Don’t Stop at One”) . Challenges need that sort of flexibility: push yourself when you have the bandwidth to do it, stick with the basics on a more challenging schedule.

I did use the easy way out a lot towards the end- a month is a long time to keep up a challenge. Interestingly, when I had time, I found I wasn’t drawn sticking with still lifes and non-urban landscapes; I wanted to see if I could use this way of working when working on location and working on urban sketches with people in them. Those are the subjects and pieces I learnt the most from.

See these two pieces from In-‘N-Out Burgers. I thought the no-line one just wouldn’t work. But I think it does. Pushing myself to keep seeing in shape instead of switching to line was hard: at about halfway through, I so wanted to pick up my pen and draw in those few strokes that clarify the tilt of a head and the reach of a hand to grab a food tray… why didn’t I do it in watercolor? Because I was in the middle of my piece, going from big shapes to middle sized shapes, not yet to the smallest details…When I’m switching between line and color, I can jump back and forth and capture a gesture in line when it happens and return to color: the line stays put with color over it. Not so in direct watercolor, I felt I couldn’t jump in and seize the moment. Can it be done? I’m sure it can, I just haven’t figured it out yet.

dw_19_in_n_outNo-line seems to work great for me for capturing a general mood in great swaths of color. I’m going to try and remember to use this approach more when color and shape is what strikes me first about a scene. dw_19_in_n_out_with-line

So here’s what I found very frustrating about working in no-line: It takes about twice as long as I usually would take on a piece. That’s not an issue sometimes, but a lot of what I do is reportage sketching and being quick is what gives me access to the subjects that interest me.

This first capture of artichoke flowers took much longer than the second one where I started with big shape and then switched to loose line with a watersoluble pencil.

While I’m pretty happy with this sketch below, it’s just not practical to spend this much time on painting one person: the chance of them getting up and walking away is really high if I have to work in this style.

In my usual style of working I would have drawn him first in pen and then perhaps worked the background in just big shapes. The effect is different, but the chance of capturing my main subject is much higher.
But, I can now see working in a ‘hybrid’ style of big shapes first, some line later and then coming back to color to finish off the piece…


Also I just wanted to say: I totally missed my pen all month.

On the positive side, seeing in big shapes has been very very useful to me. That second artichoke piece in pencil and watercolor is a result of doing so much shape-seeing: I’m going to explore making shape and line play against each other much more now. It’s a style I have been trying to work more with (instead of just line-first) for a while now, and my demo in Porto is actually based on that concept (My main workshop is about drawing people at work) :

In conclusion #30x30DirectWatercolor2018 helped me:
• Stick with an almost-daily practice, even in a busy time
• Forced me to put away my strong medium, line, and see/think in shape
• Opened up possibilities of working more with shape for a wider range of ways to work
• Made me play with, study and understand watercolor better
• Made it clear to me how much I love drawing (I do really love working in line!)
• Brought me back to more regular blogging.

And that’s a lot to learn in a month!

Thank you Marc Holmes for an awesome challenge. I had fun being part of a team doing this together with Liz Steel, Anne-Laure Jacquart, Maria Coryell-Martin, and Uma Kelkar.


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The last few direct-painting watercolors

Here’s the rest of my Direct Watercolor challenge. I have to admit, these last few ones are more in the spirit of “okay, let’s get to 30” than learning-focussed. These were painted at San Jose State University. The beautiful Mission-inspired architecture is a joy to paint in the summer light.




And a few very quick ones here. Artichoke flowers.

And a turkey 🙂

And with that, #30x30DirectWatercolor2018 is a wrap for me. A post on what I learnt to follow soon. But for now, out comes my pen!



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Wrestling with a cup

Hang in just a wee bit more, I know you’re sick of hearing about my struggles with the Direct Watercolor when the challenge (and the month) are long over.

I’m a bit behind on posting, and onto a new summer adventure that I will blog next. But for just now the day I wrestled with and lost to a seemingly simple subject: a mug. One cup of chai in a lovely Mid-Century Modern mug. How hard could it be.

cup_mcm_1a.jpgThe trouble, I think, is pattern. I love the funky pattern on my newly acquired set of cups, and trying to capture the spirit of the pattern kept getting in the way of painting a simple , bold, loose cup of chai.

So here they are, all my attempts.

#1. You’d never guess it’s a white mug.

Just going to pause here to say that this point of a sketch (below) is the exact point at which I am itching to pull out my pen, throw in come line and then go back to rendering pattern.

But I committed to trying this all in direct watercolor, right? So here is #2. Even trying to ‘draw in some line’ with dark paint at the end couldn’t rescue it.

#3 and #4 were a bit better.


I’m going to put it down to a bad day. Or to not having the patience to wait for stuff to dry just a wee bit.

Or maybe I’m just missing my pen too much. But if I got as far as day 25 of the challenge, I’m not throwing the towel in yet. I think. But I am calling this cup of chai done. For now.


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Harvesting Lavender

I resisted using line here because I’m still working at the  Direct Watercolor challenge. (This is day 24)

Painting a scene with a person in it, from life, and then painting in negative to keep that white shirt thing going against the dark lavender…dw24_lavender2dw24_lavender1

All I can say is I’m glad harvesting lavender isn’t a super-quick process, because direct watercolor is NOT quick for me in this sort of situation. What would’ve been an easy capture with line and color became a 40 minute piece… But hey, I’m learning.

Thank you, Jayne Sonnenschein, I’d never have known of this gorgeous lavender farm right here in my neighborhood without you sleuthing out all these amazing locations. The Urban Sketchers community and the local watercolor and sketchbook groups I occasionally paint with never cease to amaze me in how much the artists in the community are willing to share of what they know and discover.


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Direct Watercolor, it’s almost over!

I’m getting close to the end of the Direct Watercolor challenge. (Yes, I know it’s past June now but I’m a bit behind on posting these to the blog. It’s been long, it’s been good, it’s been frustrating, and some days, I just want to get a piece done so I’ll stay on schedule.

Some pieces don’t stretch or challenge me, but there’s place for days where you just enjoy messing around with watercolor on paper, right? These pieces of a little stuffed monkey toy I brought back from San Miguel de Allende, Mexico fit that category.

Another day I painted my son messing around on the piano. A little more challenging since he decided to get up and go not long after I started. So I was forced to call the piece done at that.

I paint views of the mountains behind home quite often. What I love is that tower (which just looks like a tiny box) on them called Mount Umunhum.

A few more days of direct watercolor postings left and then it’s summer travel time for me. Not sure how much I will be able to blog while I am away on vacation with my family and then teaching at the Urban Sketchers Symposium in Porto but if I drop off for a couple of weeks, know that I’ll be back with a lot to post after that!30x30-direct-watercolor-white-logo_horizontal_web

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Stretching outside my comfort zone

I thought I’d take it easy during the Direct Watercolor challenge and just paint subjects that were easier for me to work in direct watercolor, but I’m wanting to (on most days) stretch outside that comfortable space and do more challenging stuff.

I love painting bustling spaces full of people. It’s a hard subject for direct watercolor. (but it can be done, have you seen Marions Rivolier’s work?) So I gave it a shot this week at my local In-N-Out Burger. I did 2 sketches, the first one in brushpen and watercolor, the second in direct watercolor.

This is the first one, in a technique I work in quite frequently. Gotta love the Pentel Pocket brushpen, it’s so great for drawing quickly and boldly.

And this next one in direct watercolor.

With both pieces I knew it was important for me to capture the energy of the place. Both techniques capture it differently in my opinion, and I am surprised by what I could do with #2. That said, #2 was much harder for me to work on and even working quickly took atleast twice as long as #1. Which is fine if I have the time and am generally just capturing the feel of a space, but it is a big consideration for me when I’m doing more reportage-style sketching and trying to capture a fleeting story.

I also think my way of working in line and color is more literal: I can tell the stories of particular people, capture gestures and details I can’t in direct watercolor. But direct watercolor does capture mood really effectively.

Now to figure how to get the best of both worlds in one piece… I think I’ll save that problem for another day though!

You can join the Direct Watercolor group on facebook here. When you post, tag your work with #30x30DirectWatercolor2018


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I’m in Watercolor Artist Magazine!

The August issue (yes, it’s out already and available at Barnes &Noble) of Watercolor Artist focusses on painting the world around you, with a special focus on sketchbooks.watercolor_mag1

I’m thrilled and honored to have a piece in there with some of my urban watercolors and sketches from my travels. Especially thrilled to share the piece with artists Hazel Soan and Stephen Harby. (I know, I’m still pinching myself!)

Here are photographs of the spreads.

If you get to look through a copy, tell me what you think!

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