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© Copyright 2019, Brenda Swenson retains copyrights to all artwork. All images on this site are property of Brenda Swenson and may not be used in any way for commercial, financial or personal without prior written consent. All Rights Reserved for republication (printed and digital) and anything but personal viewing of artworks on this site.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Still My Soul

I wrote this 11 days ago as I was sitting on a large rock in the Arroyo. An hour earlier I had reached a breaking point. Stress over took my body... I had to get away! I needed to decompress FAST. I was overwhelmed from noise, tension and sadness. I didn't want to lash out and say something I would regret.

Our 1904 home has always been a place of quiet and solitude...except for the last twelve weeks. We are nearing the completion of a major home improvement project. In June it all began. While I was in Belgium. My husband had the old (asbestos) siding professionally removed. The new siding is on, wood trim has been sanded and as of 2 days ago the painting finally began. Constant construction six days a week, from 7:30am till 6:00pm.

I knew the constant noise would be a problem for me, especially when it came time to write. I bought noise canceling headphones, wrote notes to myself, dictated on my phone... But in the end I would need to be on my home office computer. I needed to see multiple images at once and reference prior writing (taking my desk top computer to the STUDIO was not an option). I had two magazine articles to complete, workshop to prep for, show to enter, family needing time... When I sat down to write I heard ladders being put in placed against the wall, just 5 feet from my desk. When the power sanders began it sounded like an orchestra of jackhammers. A new form of torture!


The problem wasn't the guys working. Mike, Rudolfo and Hector are some of the hardest working, respectable, conscientious people I know. So where does the fault lie? It's no ones fault. This world is a stressful place for you and for me. We are constantly dealing with deadlines, world and national crisis, health issues, job and family stress.

How do you handle stress? Is it healthy OR destructive? 
Some feel justified to use hateful words and actions when stressed.  I walk until I can find peace in my soul, clear my head, burn off steam and get a grasp on my feeling (anger, sorry, stress...).  Usually a 4 mile walk does the trick but it can take many, many more. Thankfully I live in a area where I can walk for miles. Along the Arroyo I can find majestic oak trees, eucalyptus, birds, beautiful craftsman homes and watch heavenly light filter through the trees.  These sights restore my soul and I'm ready to turn around and walk home.

"I’m am weary, I know not why. At these moments I walk further and listen to my heart. Into the Arroyo I go...I seek the sights, sounds and smells that restore my soul. I cannot fix cruelty of mankind, ease suffering or turn back the clock. I can only move forward. I walk until my soul is stilled and I’m strengthened for another day...I walk into the Arroyo." 
I wish you peace,

Friday, July 19, 2019

Sketches and Memories of Belgium

In early June I traveled to Belgium. I was scheduled to teach two workshops with French Escapade…but first a little playtime! Two friends joined me in Brussels, Phyllis from California and Cris from Brazil. Our days in Brussels was lovely. Each day we ventured out to sight see and sketch. It rained a little but usually in early morning or during the night. The days were cool and pleasant. I was prepared for cooler weather and usually wore a light down jacket, scarf and sketching gloves. We had a wonderful time taking in the sights. We stayed at the ibis Hotel in Brussels. It was centrally located and a easy walk to the cathedrals, museums and sights.
It came time for my workshops. We met up with Jackie Grandchamps and Valerie Sals, the owners of French Escapade and our guides. After a 90 minute drive we arrived at our destination, our home away from home. We were 20 minutes from the historic center of Brugge (or Bruges). After 4 days in a busy city I was delighted to be in the country side with it’s green pastures, sheep, cattle, horses, chicken and one noisy peacock! What is a peacock doing in Belgium?

The day we visited the windmill in Damme everything was perfect. The day saw bright and sunny but not too hot. I had a cool breeze on my back and the windmill blades were rotating against the blue sky with large billowing clouds. I'm always on the look-out for interesting shadows. Imagine my delight when I saw the blade of the windmill wrapping the tower. It begged to be painted!

Belgium is very green and with that comes wet weather. I came prepared with a lightweight raincoat, umbrella and rain boots. Little did I know how quickly things would change. By the end of the week 

Europe was in the grips of a heatwave. The hot air came from the Sahara. Belgium, Germany and France were hit hard with severe heat warnings…ugh. I had plenty of clothes for cold rainy days but very little for the sweltering heat. 
Time to buy new hats!

I created a YouTube video titled, Sketchbook Tour: Belgium. Sketches of Brussels, Damme, Brugge, De Haan... Inside you'll see the lessons I taught and my commentary. At the end I show the supplies I used (sketchbooks, palette, paint, pens, ink...).If you have a problem viewing the video on my blog click here to see it on my YouTube Channel. VIDEO HERE

Since I've been home I did this small piece called “The Lace Maker of Brugge”. I enjoyed watching this woman sitting in her doorway making bobbin lace. In the upper left-hand corner you can see the lace I purchased from her. It took her more than 15 hours! She is obviously an older woman but her hands were young, pretty and agile.
I will carry memories of Belgium in my heart.  So many people worked to make this workshop special: French Escapade and our  hosts at the hotel...especially Monique! A BIG thank you to my students for sharing my love of travel and sketching on location.

Happy Sketching!

First Workshop Group June 12-19

Second Workshop Group June 19-26

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Mixing Believable Greens

One color that gets a lot of people in trouble is green. Tube green to be exact. Any tube of green by itself isn’t believable. Every tree, shrub or flowering plant is going to shift in greens from warm to cool, pure to grayed…and so on. A landscape is going to shift in greens too. Warmer yellow-greens in the foreground and cooler blue-greens as you go back. 

How do you make believable greens? One word…PRACTICE. It’s not that hard. I recommend you start by keeping a book for color mixing only. I call these my color bibles. I’ve built many  reference books over the years. Combinations I refer to again and again. Greens, triads…and so on.

Mixing paint on the paper (not on the palette) will give you the most interesting greens. Why? You’ll have more variations. I’m sharing greens I made using the current colors on my palette. All of the colors listed below are Daniel Smith Watercolors with the exception of Burnt Sienna which is Winsor Newton. I’ve label all the paint swatches with abbreviations. If you're not familiar with color index code, don't worry. The first letter P means pigment, the next letter is pigment color family (R=red, B=blue…and so on) and the final number is the number issued by the ASTM (American Society for Testing Materials).
Mixing paint on dry paper

Abbreviation (HYM), Paint Name (Hansa Yellow Medium), Color Index Code (PY97)

HYM=Hansa Yellow Medium, PY97
RSL=Raw Sienna Light, PY42
PYD=Permanent Yellow Deep, PY110
GG=Green Gold, PY 150, PY 3, PG 36
QG=Quinacridone Gold, PO 48 PY, 150
MBH=Manganese Blue Hue PB15
FU=French Ultramarine, PB29
PT=Phthalo Turquoise, PB15:3, PG36
BS=Burnt Sienna, PR101
LB=Lunar Black, PBk11

Last week images were taken from my blog without 
permission.  Watermarks © have become an 
unpleasant necessity.

How many green combinations can you identify in my sketch? Some greens are very yellow and other are more blue, grayed... 

Hint: If a green area goes dull add a touch of Quinacridone Rose or Magenta when the pigment is still damp to liven it up.
Happy Painting!

Monday, June 3, 2019

Santa Maria Church and Toned Papers

Photos can’t captured the emotion of a scene the same way a sketch can. I imagine some photographers might disagree…that’s okay.  When I sketch on location the scene and events of the day remain with me…weeks, months, years. The image is burned into my heart and mind. I carry it with me all my days.

Recently I wrote, It's the People, Not the Place. It was my experience while sketching Santa Maria Church in Siena, Italy. The memory is still fresh. I originally sketched the image with ink and wrote about the day in my sketchbook. Since I returned home I’ve sketched the scene many times. I used my reference photo, original sketch and emotional experience to guide me. Each time I do the sketch a little differently. Either I use a different sketchbook paper, pen, paint… Why? It keeps my mind, eye and hand fresh. Eventually I plan to do a full sized painting. But for now I want to explore ideas.

Small Sketch Set-Up
Palette: Sketchers Box, by Winsor Newton (Cotman Paints).  I removed the student grade Cotman paints and filled with tube colors. My paints are predominately Daniel Smith Watercolors with a few exceptions (noted on palette diagram).

Brushes: DaVinci travel brushes 6 and 8 rounds

Pencil & Eraser

White Marker: Faber-Castell Pitt, White

Collapsible Water Bowl (Sea to Summit)

Sketchbook: Stillman and Birn, 10x8”, Nova Series. I love the warm tone of the Nova paper…the warm color of Siena!

WARM Toned Paper
The dramatic light was what drew me to the scene from the start. I drew the design with pencil. When it came time to paint I simplified the scene by putting the buildings on both sides of the street in shadow and I added the people in silhouette. The darks are Lunar Black. I added a few accents on the building with Burnt Sienna. I used the Faber-Castell, Pitt, White marker to add highlights on the building. I attempted to use the white marker in the sky but didn’t like how it looked (upper right hand corner) and quickly moved into Cobalt Blue to soften the marker and complete the sky. The paper handled light washes of watercolor nicely.

Next I sketched the scene on a cool gray paper. I used Mi-Teintes
COOL Toned Paper
 paper. The image is drawn with a pen (waterproof ink). The people in the scene are more prominent. The man and woman on the right walking arm in arm. A tribute to the woman I met that day in Siena.  They will remain together forever in my sketch. As you can see the cool gray paper effects the transparent watercolors and the sketch has a different feeling. I used White Gouache with Cobalt Blue in the sky. For the lights on the building the Faber-Castell Pitt White marker.  I really like the look of a toned surface with watercolor. The paper will warp a little, I don't mind.

I’m heading to Belgium this week.  I’ll keep my eyes (and heart) open to new experiences. 
Next year I'm teaching a workshop in the South West region of France. You can learn more here, French Escapade.

I leave you with a favorite quote. It speaks to my heart and mind of how I feel when I am sketching and exploring my world. 

The Sketch Hunter 
"The sketch hunter moves through life as he finds it, not passing negligently the things he loves, but stopping to know them, and to note them down in the shorthand of his sketchbook.” ~Robert Henri

Happy Sketching!

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

It's the People, Not the Place

Teaching workshops across the US and abroad has given me with the opportunity to travel. Last Fall I was in Italy. I spent a few days in Florence before I joined the workshop and traveled to the Chianti region. I had an amazing time teaching (two workshops), enjoying food, exploring new sights, sketching and getting to know the women in the workshops.

The final excursion of the trip we visited the beautiful city of Siena. In the morning I did a demo showing the benefits of working on a toned surface. After the morning session the participants had free time on their own before meeting back at the pick up location. Everybody had a different plan for the afternoon: shopping, walking tour, sketching, leisurely lunch in a cafe. 

I decided to strike out on my own and explore Siena.
My plan was to find a little corner where I could blend into a wall, observe what life is really like in Siena and sketch. After walking around for an hour I finally found the perfect spot. I watched kids coming home from school, girls flirting with boys, women carrying groceries… I tucked into a doorway that wasn't being used. I had the perfect view of Santa Maria, in Provenzano. The VIEW, the LIGHT…it was amazing! I felt so happy. About 5 minutes into the sketch a car pulled in front of me and parked. The first thing I thought was ARE YOU SERIOUS!? With lots of places to park on the street and you have to park in front of me? But I held my tongue. The woman got out of her car waving her hands in the air speaking Italian. I finally heard a few words I understood, “I have to park here! I have to park here my husband is coming home from the
“Quote by John W. Gardner
hospital, in an ambulance”. She kept repeating the line over and over. All I could say was…OK. She went in a door across the street. I sat there half stunned. I decided to make the best of the small view I had. A short time later she came out of her home. She didn’t say a word to me. She just moved her car forward just so I could see. My heart sank. I wanted to cry out…Don’t worry about me! But I kept my mouth shut. The day wasn’t about me and I wanted her to forget about me and focus on her husband coming home. Within a few minutes and ambulance arrived and then her adult children. They were there to bring him home. When I saw him being lifted out of the ambulance I knew he wasn’t coming home to recuperate. He was coming home to die.

I sat on the steps a little while longer, finished my sketch and walked to a nearby café. I felt very far from home and the person I loved the most, Mike. I got a cup of cappuccino, bought chocolates to take home to Mike and wrote down my thoughts. I was overwhelmed with emotions. Why am I telling you this story? Because a few hours earlier in the day I set out to view life in Siena. Not the tourist view, but real life. And that’s exactly what I saw! Life is no sweeter in Italy, France, Spain… it's easy to think grass is greener or life is sweeter somewhere else. No matter where we go in the world: all people mourn, laugh, cry, love and ache.  It’s the people in our lives that make life special…not the place.


Since I returned home from Italy I've sketched Santa Maria Church numerous times.  It's a wonderful opportunity to show different approaches to watercolor. Stay tuned...I'll be posting that lesson next.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Looking into the Future (at least 2020)

In my last post I told you about my plans to cut back on workshops and travel, in 2020. In the post, Pulling in the Reins I expressed my desire to regain more time for myself and creative energy. I feel like the universe is testing my ability to stick with what I said. Since I posted I've been contacted my three European companies and countless watercolor societies across the US. I only weakened once!!! It's hard to say no, when I enjoy what I do. But I am wise enough to know my limits! I'm not my best self when stretched too thin. 
To keep myself accountable I am letting you know that next year looks like. I have trimmed back, a little. It may not look like it...but 11 is less than 15 😉

Hope to see you along the way!

January 13-17, 2020 (Jan. 12 Demo)
Negative Painting with Watercolor, 5-Day Workshop
10150 Bonita Beach Road, Bonita Springs, FL 34135 Contact:
Workshop Page

February 11-14, 2020 (Feb. 10 Demo)
Negative Painting with Watercolor, 4-Day Workshop
Tucson, AZ
Workshop Page

March 23-26, 2020
Negative Painting with Watercolor, 4-Day Workshop
Scottsdale Artists’ School, Scottsdale, AZ 800.333.5707
Details to come...

April 5-10, 2020
Plein Air Sketching with Watercolor, 4-Days
Santa Barbara, CA
Workshop Details

April 21-24  (April 20 Demo)
Negative Painting with Watercolor, 4-Day workshop
SWA Society of Watercolor Artists, Fort Worth, TX
Contact: 817-478-2676
Details to come...

May 5-8, 2020 (Demo 4th)
Negative Painting with Watercolor, 4-Day Workshop
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Mary Jane: Barbara:
Details to come

July 8-10, 2020
Illustrated Journal with Watercolor, 3-Day Workshop
Daniel Smith Art Store, Seattle, WA
Workshop Details

July 11 - Free Public Demo
Daniel Smith Art Store, Seattle, WA, Info: 206-223-9599
Events Page

July 12-15, 2020
Negative Painting with Watercolor, 4-Day Workshop
Daniel Smith Art Store, Seattle, WA, Info: 206-223-9599
Workshop Details

September 2-9, 2020 -&- September 10-17, 2020
Plein Air Sketching with Watercolor
South West of France Jackie:
Workshop Details

October 5-8, 2020
Sketching Techniques with Watercolor, 4-Day Workshop
Landgrove, Vermont Thomas & Maureen:
Details to come...

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Pulling In The Reins

Since I was 8 years old I’ve wanted to be an artist. When I told a step-parent my dream I was told find something else. At that moment the small seed of hope that lived within me was crushed. I wasn’t good enough.

In my mid-20’s I gathered courage and registered for classes at Pasadena City College. The same year my youngest son began 1st grade. I was studying illustration, painting and design. He studied crayons, paper and paste.
Within a few years I found watercolor. Unfortunately, my first class was discouraging. The teacher was more interested in socializing with her “favorites” and her only words to me were criticism. I didn’t try watercolor again for 3 years. When I found the right teacher my world opened up!!!  Her name was Verna Wells. I learned that the best teacher not only instructs but encourages and nurtures the seed with each student.

As my skills grew my paintings started to be recognized. I was asked to teach a weekly class and I’ve never looked back. That was more than 20 years ago. Teaching has become a mission of mine. I’ve tried to show every person who came through my door (a workshop) that they were valued and had something unique and wonderful to offer. The rewards have come in many forms: letters, notes, private conversations and cherished friendships. The most profound reward has come in knowing…I am enough. The seed that was crushed as a child is now a tree.

All living things on earth need time to rest, gather strength and rejuvenate. God created season’s for a reason. During the dormant months we may not see growth on the surface but beneath things are happening. I feel a need to push my roots deeper and grow stronger. Growth takes time and energy.
I have so many things I have yet to explore and my head it exploding with ideas…but I lack the time and energy to do it. If I desire something I need to make changes.

What I'm trying to tell you? I’m pulling in the reins. This year I have 15 workshops and next year I have 9. Somewhere between 6 and 8 will be the perfect number.  Do I want to stop teaching? No. Teaching is the core of who I am....I love it.  But, I plan on being more selective of when and where I teach and the number of workshops each year. Instead of running at full speed I am bringing my teaching schedule down to a gentle trot. I’m excited for what the future holds.

My current workshop schedule is on my website and all sessions have a wait list. I’ll be posting my 2020 workshop schedule in a month or so.

Gotta run for now. I need to pack for a flight. Tomorrow I’ll be doing a demonstration for the California Watercolor Society, followed by a 3-day workshop starting the following day.

Happy Painting!