Monday, May 9, 2016

Fear of Failure

It's easy to fall into a creative rut. It happens when you do the same thing over and over, and over, and over…  Any form of repetition (subject matter, technique, color…) can be the kiss of death to creativity. If you're worried about painting a “winner” every time you’ll quit If you quit stretching you’ll quit growing. Life is too short not to get a few stretch marks! 

If you want to grow it means you have to take a risk. The risk can be large or small but without the risk there is no challenge, without a challenge you become bored, and your work lacks excitement. Before too long you’ll lose interest in your own work because….YOU ARE BORED! If you find yourself in a rut, GET OUT! The fastest way to pull yourself out of a rut is shake things up! This week do something that  #!*!#+ scares you. Do it for you. Find out what you're capable of. Push the limits of your ability. Did you know adrenaline heightens your senses?

Does working through fear come easy for me…nope! I know more about fear than I’d like to admit. Unfortunately, I let fear rob me of my life for too many years…it paralyzed me! It robbed me of my potential personally and creatively. It’s okay to be afraid but don’t let the fear control you…DO IT ANYWAY! 

Try something this week that takes you out of your comfort zone. Here a few suggestions: 
Drawing Tools: pencil, bamboo pen, soluble ink, waterproof ink, markers
Brushes:  Flat, LARGE round
Technique: watercolor, collage, pen & ink
Surfaces: tinted paper, Japanese paper, slick paper, rough paper
Size: Do something BIG, miniature
Subject: landscape, nudes, old trucks, portraits, street scenes
View: from above (birds view), from below (worms view)
Atmosphere: sunny, foggy, rainy
Lighting: soft or sharp, warm or cool
Plein Air: Working outdoors

Recently I challenged myself. I wanted to see if I could do a pen and ink with watercolor on a larger scale, 22x30. I knew my ink lines had to be bigger. How was I going to do it? I started looking around and decided my largest Bamboo pens were perfect. I liked the width and slight irregularity of the lines would add to the sketchy feeling. No pre-drawing with pencil. It was wonderfully freeing to let the ink lines wiggle, blob and splatter ink. I wasn't out to create perfection I was having fun...and it wasn't so scary after all. 

used Noodler’s Ink, Polar Brown (waterproof), Bockingford watercolor paper 22x30, 140lbs cold press and Daniel Smith Watercolor.

 I wanted the finished piece to feel "sketchy". I resisted the temptation to refine things too much.  I wanted the look of a large sketch. Which brings up a good question...what exactly is a sketch? Is it the size? The approach? The materials used? I don't have a good answer. I love to play and push the boundaries of ink and watercolor and that's all that matters to me. I'll let others worry about definitions and I'll keep sketching and painting.

Happy Painting!

Man of Volterra, Italy

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

It Ain’t Over Until It’s Over!

Last weekend I participated in an Plein Air event in San Dimas. The artists had three hours to complete a painting, frame it, get it to the gallery, and be judged. No stress here (wink).

One of the reasons for plein air events is to introduce collectors to your work, interact with artists and be entertainment for the show. I love to see and catch up with old friends, students and collectors. 

To be honest painting and talking don't happily coexist in my brain. At a certain point I need to shut off chatter and give my entire focus to what I'm doing. One gentleman didn't seem to understand and continued to have a rapid list of questions that had nothing to do with the painting before me. I was running out of time! After I while I put down my brush, turned around and said " I can either talk or paint, not both".  He had a look of surprise. Hopefully he wasn't to offended as he walked away.

When I teach workshops it something entirely different. I am talking about everything that's happening before me…the scene, drawing, light & shadows, moisture of the paper, edges, color combinations and so much more. But every painting has a stage when you must be quiet and devote your entire attention to it.

After three hours I signed the painting, put it in a frame and got it to the gallery. When the event was over the artists collected their paintings. 

This morning I pulled the painting out to have a second look. The shadows didn't have enough contrast. So I popped the painting out of the frame and went back to work.  Now I'm happy.

It's our final touches (brush strokes, lines, dashes of color...) that separates our work from someone else's. You could say it's our signature marks or look.  Glad I had a chance to rework the painting. As they say... "It ain't over until it's over".

Happy Painting!

Monday, April 18, 2016

Festival of Arts this Weekend!

Festival of Arts: California Images & History
April 22-24, 2016
 San Dimas, California 
One of the great things about this show is the artists will be there all weekend to chat, meet with collectors, talk shop with fellow artists... I’ll be there starting with the reception Friday night through Sunday afternoon. I’ll be participating in the plein air event Saturday morning, 9:00 to noon. I'll be stationed somewhere not to far from the gallery. I’ll have the finished painting framed and at the show that afternoon.
I have 10 paintings in the gallery. Many of the paintings I'm showing for the first time. As a bonus I also have a few "plein air" paintings from my adventures in and around the San Gabriel Valley, Santa Barbara, desert…and of course an old truck or two.

I’ll attached the show card with all the important details. You may also wish to visit the WEBSITE 
Hope to see you!

Monday, April 4, 2016

En Plein Air

Spring is here and getting outside is at the top of my list. Nothing compares to painting from life! Today I'm going to share my experience with you.
I’ve sketched and painted on location for many years. I delight in knowing the light, weather or other conditions can change at a moments notice.  This creates a sense of urgency I don’t get in the studio. I also enjoy being immersed in what’s happening around me (hearing chatter from a nearby restaurant, smells in the air, feeling the temperature on my skin, interacting with fellow artists, students and onlookers). I’m aware not all painters share my passion for working outdoors. I wasn’t always comfortable either, but over time my skills improved and so did my comfort level. Now it’s my favorite way to work. 

Over the years I’ve learned many lessons. When I arrive on location the first thing I do is walk around for 5 to 15 minutes.  This is when I get a “sense” of  place. Until I explore, I don’t know what options are available. When I find something that really excites me (such as the light, shadows, color, or a particular view) I’ve found my subject.  Next I need to ask myself, how much time is available? It’s important to have realistic expectations. How much time does it take to do a quick sketch compared to a finished watercolor? How much time do I have before the light changes or I need to leave? If I have realistic expectations, I can very likely complete what I start.  Otherwise, I will become frustrated and feel my skills are lacking, when in fact, I didn’t allow enough time.

It’s important to note the position of the sun, and how it will move and change the scene over a period of a couple of hours.  If the subject will be in complete shadows shortly, it might not be a good choice. My favorite time of day to work on location is in the morning between 8:30am and 11:30am.  The shadows are interesting and the

Be careful not to let the sun directly hit your paper. It’s alarming how many people allow this!
Not only does direct sunlight make it difficult to judge values and color the light reflects into your eyes.  It doesn’t take long to burn your corneas, and repeated exposure can cause serious eye problems. So, before you setup, make sure to position yourself in the shade, or turn your body so the light doesn’t directly hit your paper.

I belong to a group of painters called, Thursday’s En Plein Air. We meet once a week at locations in and around the Pasadena area, with further excursions in the summer. This group is important to me for many reasons. I enjoy the fellowship of the other painters. Too much time alone in a studio isn’t healthy. It’s enriching to see how each person approaches the location differently.

I’ve always had a painting partner and suggest others do the same. I do not encourage anyone to
work alone en plein air, especially women.  When painting we become oblivious to traffic, loose dogs, sprinklers, unscrupulous people...  An extra set of eyes is always advised.  And of course it’s more fun to share the experience. If you are alone I suggest you sit in a safe place such as a street cafĂ©.

I consider my plein air watercolors complete as they are.  Sometimes a piece will inspire me to explore the subject further. When this happens I’ll refer to the original plein air piece for color, reflective light and shadows. It’s almost impossible to achieve the same freshness of a piece painted on location so I will intentionally change the design enough to bring something new to it. I might use a location photo for additional information, if needed. In my studio I prefer using my larger Pike palette. I like the large flat surface for mixing washes. My brushes vary in size and materials (rounds and flats). I prefer Arches 140lbs. cold press. I work on loose sheets clipped to a board and stretch if necessary when finished.

Plein Air Supplies
I have a neck and shoulder problem so I keep my equipment light and portable as possible. I enjoy the freedom of being able to move to new sketching spots easily. I would rather create multiple smaller watercolor sketches that express the feeling of a place than come away with a larger half finished painting. I carry all my painting supplies in my Sketch-Bag called a Rigger Bag. Found at Harbor Freight Tools. A light weight chair called Roll-a-Chair. I rarely use an easel and never an umbrella.

Palette:  I have a couple different palettes for working outside: Heritage Palette & Palette Box by Craig Young

Paint: My paints are Daniel Smith Watercolors unless noted differently. I may add or subtract colors.
Hansa Yellow Medium
Raw Sienna (Winsor Newton)
Quinacridone Gold
Permanent Yellow Deep
Anthraquinoid Scarlet
Permanent Alizarin Crimson
Quinacridone Rose
Ultramarine Violet
French Ultramarine
Phthalo Blue GS
Cobalt Blue
Manganese Blue Hue
Cobalt Teal Blue
Phthalo Turquoise
Green Gold
Phthalo Green (BS)
Quinicradone Sienna
Transparent Red Oxide or 
Burnt Sienna (Winsor Newton)
Lunar Black

Brushes: Rounds: assorted sizes 6 to14. 
                Flats: Da Vinci Series 5080 size 20mm, and ¼ inch flat stiff brush for lifting.

Watercolor Sketchbooks: I make my sketchbooks with Bockingford 140lbs watercolor paper and Canson pastel paper (tan, creme, and grey tones). Learn more here I also use the Stillman & Birn Sketchbooks (Beta series).

Pencils & Erasers: 2B or 4B pencil. Knead able or white eraser. 

Miscellaneous Items:  Clips, paper towels for clean up, water bottle and container, small spray bottle, sun hat, sunglasses, sunscreen and camera. 

Happy Painting!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Walking the Labyrinth

I take long walks in the morning. I use this time to recharge mentally and exercise. I walk from 3 to 5 miles and often vary my path. A few days ago I came across a Labyrinth at the Arlington Gardens in Pasadena. By slowly moving within it's boundaries I perceived life a little clearer and it helped me to accept some events that are unfolding in my life… 

*I'm not in control of the path and where it goes, it's already been set in place.

*Stay in the moment, do not be concerned with things that are not in my path.

*Along the paths boundaries between the rocks I found tiny weeds needing to be plucked…and flowers waiting to bloom.

*Be observant of the path and repair it when I can.

*I cannot change the path or obstructed it but I can leave things along the path for others to enjoy.

*Before I left I took a moment to think of what I'd like to leave behind for others. Along the path I left the words....hope, joy and love. The act of kindness left behind for someone else filled me with joy. 

The Lesson Continues...
Yesterday I returned to the labyrinth. Something in me yearned to see my words still there but they were gone. At first my heart sank a little bit. I left the words of HOPE, JOY & LOVE an act of kindness that it might lift someone’s spirits. The act brought me so much joy (and it still does). Unfortunately someone else didn't see it that way and swept them away. It was a poignant reminder to live in the moment. Not everyone will see what I do with the same eyes. I have no control over that. All I can do is live my life the best I know and leave a little something of goodness behind for others.  I am at peace with that...

With love, 

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Negative Painting with Watercolor: White Blossoms

There are many techniques to saving the “Whites” or Lights” of the paper. I have experimented with masking fluids and tapes but found the end result was either harsh or cutout looking. I like to preserve the “Whites” or Lights” of the paper from the very beginning by painting around them…Negative Painting.

Negative painting is one of the most exciting approaches to watercolor I know! The technique is a unique approach of painting around an object to define it in a composition. When working in watercolor we have the challenge that other mediums do not. It's what we don’t paint that becomes the most important element. Think of yourself as a stone carver, chipping away, until only the most precious lights remain.


*Drawing: Draw enough to get the general design on 140lb watercolor paper. Don’t over draw. Keep areas uncluttered to allow opportunities for additional shapes to be developed in the painting process.

*Select 3 Paint Colors for Underpainting

*Underpainting with 3 Colors: Wet entire paper with clean water. Charge juicy paint into the wet areas. Help paint mix by tilting the paper or with a spray bottle. Let thoroughly dry.

*Start glazing. Soften edges as you move out from subject matter. 

*With each glaze you’ll add new shapes and a darker value.  
*Pencil in new shapes between glazes if you are getting lost.

*Don’t get dark too fast.

I created a short video that shows the basic steps to making this painting happen. I hope this will help you see the process of negative painting. If you have a problem viewing the video click this link to view it on my YouTube Channel

The best way to learn the technique of Negative Painting is to see someone paint in person. Not everybody can attend workshops for numerous reasons (financial, physical limitations, family responsibilities…). If you like to attend one of my workshops please follow this link to see my Workshop Schedule.

Happy Painting!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Join me at Daniel Smith's in Seattle!

3-DAY WORKSHOP: Negative Painting with Watercolor with BRENDA SWENSON, Aug 1-3, 2016, 10 am - 4:30 pm

Mon-Wed, Aug 1-3, 2016
10:00 am - 4:30 pm (30 min lunch)
Register at 206-223-9599

• Discover the dynamic results of negative painting!
• Learn how to suggest shapes by painting around them, and avoid the dreaded disappointment of an overworked painting.
• Learn techniques for creating overlapping and inter-locking shapes and lost edges.
• Improve your understanding of color theory and make better paintings with rich, loose and glowing colors.
• Achieve a deeper, practical understanding of watercolor by developing skills in glazing, wet into wet, charging colors and more!
• Release your inventive potential and take your paintings to the next level.
• Students will benefit from informative demonstrations, friendly critiques, and one-on-one help.
• Workshop Skill Level: Basic knowledge of watercolor is recommended.

   FREE DEMO, FREE DEMO   August 6, 2016, 11 am - 1 pm   FREE DEMO, FREE DEMO

3-DAY WORKSHOP: Sketching Techniques with Watercolor with BRENDA SWENSON, Aug 8-10, 2016, 10 am - 4:30 pm

Mon-Wed, Aug 8-10, 2016
10:00 am - 4:30 pm (30 min lunch)
Register at 206-223-9599

• Enjoy the charming, loose and colorful nature of watercolor at its best—while sketching!
• Sharpen your observational skills, color awareness, drawing techniques and simple design principles.
• Each day we’ll explore the variety of sketching tools, techniques and papers.
• Learn how a sketch can be complete in itself, or a road map to larger studio paintings.
• Whether you want to improve your drawing skills, create illustrated journals or take that next step as an artist you will come away from this workshop excited and inspired about your artwork.
• Benefit from daily demonstrations, friendly critiques, and one-on-one help.
• Workshop Skill Level: All