Midway point: #30x30DirectWatercolor2018

At the halfway point of #30x30DirectWatercolor2018, and I’m looking back at the half-month with some thoughts and some favorite picks.

If you aren’t a natural direct-watercolorist, (I’m not!) then this is a HARD challenge! To see exclusively in shape and yet keep a piece from being overworked takes a whole lot of focus. The impulse to just pick up a pen and finish the piece is strong!

Some subjects are easier to work in direct watercolor and get loose with because they’re forgiving. Like this landscape with simple perspective.  Knowing I didn’t have to get the drawing right meant I was free to focus on capturing the feel of the blazing heat. I couldn’t resist painting in the two figures: to me, they add a story to the piece.


I was quite pleased with this next piece because it combined many challenges for me: painting a person/people without line (and not just as ‘little people in a landscape’), creating the feel of space and activity without getting too specific. And, the piece is darker, literally, than a lot of what I paint. In both this piece and the one above I like that I got pretty dark values that still stayed transparent, something I often struggle with.

On other days I just took it easy and painted stuff I understood well and had painted before. Like this skull that sits on my studio table, a ready model whenever I need one. I also painted this on the wrong side of a sheet of Arches paper.(The other side was used for a rather unsuccessful piece). Doing this totally takes the pressure off creating a ‘good piece’ and it’s amazing how much it adds to flow and looseness. If only I could convince myself to work like this more!


All my piece use white gouache. I use it like I would any other color, and while I try to save my big whites, I don’t save smaller ones if I feel saving them will make me work tighter: I feel like it’s an exchange sometimes, saving a white versus working loosely. And for me, spontaneity usually wins over careful planning.

So what have I learned so far? (Besides that this is hard work?)

  • Seeing in shape-first is slowly becoming less difficult. Right now the hard part is keeping from quickly jumping to pen after that first take on big shapes.
  • I am enjoying watching watercolor move on the paper with no line to hold it within bounds, and I’m learning a lot about pigments and transparency in the process.
  • If I hang on for another few weeks and work at this, there will be more insights and progress. I think.

I’d love to hear what you’re learning if you’re attempting to paint this way. Or if it’s your go-to way to paint too.

Posted in challenge, Everyday Sketches, Paintings, people, watercolor | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

Direct Watercolor, a weekend of catchup

Number 13 to 17 of my pieces for the Direct Watercolor challenge were all done in one weekend because I was far behind on the challenge. I know it isn’t the point of the challenge to do this sort of quick rushed thing, but I really didn’t like that I was behind. Funny how that works. So here they are, all quick little pieces, as you can see.

First, two takes on my go-to model. This first piece uses Daniel Smith’s Monte Amiata Natural Sienna, a recent color substitution in my palette that’s working really nicely for me. Both these skulls are painted on the wrong side of Arches Cold Press paper. I have so many ‘didn’t get anywhere’ pieces lying around, it makes sense to use the back of the paper. Besides, it quickly puts me in a mindset of playing and experimenting instead of trying to produce a painting.



This one isn’t painted from life. I looked at a photograph, noodled around a bit and then just did whatever I wanted with it. Why? Because it was a hot weekend and it felt perfect for a gin & tonic. Who would’ve thought such a wonderful drink came about as a malaria-fighting tool?

Wrapping up the weekend with two quick studies of fruit from the farmer’s market. Here in California we’re lucky to have farmer’s markets all year round. But in the summer, they outdo themselves. Peaches and nectarines in a handmade ceramic bowl in deep blue. Both on Arches Cold Press paper, one on the wrong side of the paper: It’s not hard to tell from the color which one is on the wrong side…


And that gets me to about the halfway point in the challenge! Another 15 to go, and a few quick thoughts o the challenge coming up next.

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


Posted in california, challenge, Close to home, Drink, Everyday Sketches, Food, watercolor | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

A Summer Tradition (and line versus no line)

I’m at a ceramic painting store called Petroglyph with my kids. It’s a summer holiday tradition: we go over at the start of the summer break, they choose a plate, a mug, something small to paint and I draw them painting. This year,  I drew (painted?) people at other tables.

Here are two sketches done in pretty different styles.

This first one is line-first. It lets me quickly tell a pretty detailed story: Here, a mom and two little girls all gathered around the piece the mom was putting finishing touches to. Line helps me get quite specific quickly: that hand gesture of the mom holding the little clay fish she painted, the two girls watching intently, the tilt-in of the girls head to look at the piece her mom held up… I couldn’t have got to it quickly with direct watercolor.


This next one is in direct watercolor. I can see how it has a certain feel that’s hard to get to with line, but I struggle to tell particular stories and capture fleeting moments in this method of working. Perhaps because it is the method that comes less intuitively to me.

While the two pieces are quite different in treatment you can see some of the influence of my (now half month) of direct watercolor practice showing up even in the first sketch: You’ll see that while I used line on the figures, the background, which didn’t need as much specificity ( and wasn’t going to get up and walk away on me)  is done in no-line, providing contrast and visually pushing it back in the scene.

If you work in both methods, (or in one but have tried learning the other one) I’d love to hear your thoughts on what works and doesn’t work for you. What you see as the pros and cons of each style of working…


Posted in california, challenge, Close to home, Figure Drawing, Paintings, people, san jose, Silicon Valley, Summer, watercolor | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Direct Watercolor, Day 9,10 and 11

Days 9,10, and 11 of the Direct Watercolor challenge. I travelled on work to Las Vegas, and it was hard to squeeze in direct watercolor between long days at work. Still, I was glad my hotel room looked out at the High Roller, which modeled for me on two days that week.


And piece #11 of the watercolor challenge was pushing the idea of ‘direct watercolor” a bit. Still, here is the piece.

Waiting for my flight to leave Las Vegas and head back to San Jose. I did the people first in pen and then the slot machines in the background in direct watercolor. I like the uneasy mix of the two very different techniques: it’s kinda how I feel about Vegas.

If you are doing the challenge and keeping up (unlike me, who is a bit behind), then you must be at the halfway mark… How is it going? Your thoughts about it? And any progress you see in your work?

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


Posted in challenge, Figure Drawing, Paintings, people, watercolor | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Life Drawing

When I don’t my make it to my Thursday Life Drawing session, (like this week) I really miss it.

So here’s some life drawing from previous weeks. Have I mentioned before how much I love gesture drawing? Minute long poses (the Bay Area Models Guild has awesome models) means the models can do some really dynamic stuff, and I love capturing it.

Slightly longer poses let you study form and shade.

And a 20 minute pose means I can pull out some watercolor!

More from me soon and a midpoint check-in on #30x30DirectWatercolor201 soon…

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Direct Watercolor, Day 5, 6, 7 and 8

Day 5 of the Direct Watercolor challenge. I’m having more success (and less muddiness) with my darks since I switched out my burnt umber for sepia. Indanthrone blue (or sometimes  Indigo) and Sepia are what I’m using in those darkest darks.


Day 6. A portrait of my daughter Kavya. Painted while she read a book.

Day 7. The East Bay Hills as seen from the Warm Springs Bart Station in Fremont.

Day 8 is a portrait from a life drawing session.


Am I learning from the challenge? I’m sure I am, but it’s not something I can clearly articulate or point to in my work. Yet.

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


Posted in challenge, Figure Drawing, Paintings, people, watercolor | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Direct Watercolor, Day 4

Day 4 of the Direct Watercolor challenge. 

All of these are based on a photograph I took in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. If you have ever been there, or seen photographs you know that it’s all about vivid color in that city. I wanted to capture that, the characteristic pink city buses, the crowded cobbled streets and the buntings and buildings.
I wanted to capture the scorching heat. I kept my color palette limited and worked in my first shapes (very) wet-in-wet. The trick after that was just to not mess with those first shapes too much.

This is Version 1
I’ll follow up each piece with a small closeup of a bit I liked, and then my thoughts on other bits of it.

I like the energy in the piece and this bit here with the truck.

What didn’t work so well for me was the composition: I would have liked to push the dome further into the distance to create the feel of a deep street.

Version 2

I liked how vibrant the buildings on the left are, and it’s good to have the dome recede in the distance. Adding the white car helped.

But that figure in a black suit by the white car, that one I don’t like.

Version 3
So I did yet another version.

I like this bit.

But I think I miss the energy of the other two pieces and the person in the foreground, facing away, into the scene.

Here are all three pieces, side by side so you can judge for yourself…

Do you have a favorite?

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


Posted in challenge, mexico, Paintings, people, watercolor | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments