Thursday, February 12, 2015

Watercolor: Understanding Opaque & Transparent Paints

I've had a lot of questions about this topic. I'm going to put on my teacher’s hat and talk about watercolor paints and their particular characteristics. The reason I am spending time on this topic is that I want to share information about "negative" painting, and it is necessary to understand opaque and transparent for this technique to work.

Transparent: permits light to penetrate. Allowing the white surface of the paper or underpainting to show through. These pigments are fine in texture. When multiple glazes of transparent colors are painted on top of each other (when dry) the color beneath will show through changing its appearance. 

Opaque: impenetrable to light; not allowing light to pass through. These paints are relatively chalky in appearance when dry. All cadmiums are opaque. 
Semi-Opaque or Semi-Transparent: These paints are “middle of the road”. These paints are generally safe for glazing techniques.

Opaque or Transparent how do you know?This information is available from manufactures and can be accessed in catalogs, art supply stores and the internet. I have spent a sizable amount of time collecting manufacture information. Not everyone has time or interest to do this research. The quickest and best way to determine if your paints are opaque or transparent is to do a simple test. With a permanent marker (Sharpie Chisel tip) draw a bold line across a piece of 2x2 inch watercolor paper. With paint the consistency of whole milk paint over the line. If the black line is obscured (chalky looking) it is opaque. On the paint swatch I write information (brand, color name, index code). I keep all my color swatches in a binder for future reference. Over the years I have built an extensive binder of color swatches. I am amazed how often I refer to this information.  

I don’t want to give the impression I am against using opaque paints… I like them but I don’t keep them on my palette as a main color. When I need an opaque color I squirt out some fresh paint. I do a lot of “negative” painting built up with glazes, and glazes get “muddy” with opaque paint. Opaque are great for accent marks at the end, but not for glazing. Glazing is when you paint a transparent layer on top of a dry layer. Opaque paints will look chalky or muddy if used for glazing. If you have a tendency to get “muddy” colors chances are you have an opaque paint on your palette.Look closely at the paint swatches below. Look at the top row and notice how the paint seems to be sitting on top of the line=this means opaque.
Look at the bottom row, notice how the paint does not effect the black line=this means transparent. 

I encourage you to try this with your current palette. 

Happy Painting!

Friday, February 6, 2015

the STUDIO and Workshops

With the creation of  my new “STUDIO”  I’ll be teaching workshops in the space, limit to 7 people. Smaller workshops will allow me to cover more information and spend additional time with each student. I have four STUDIO workshops planned for 2015. 

If you're on Facebook you can see a short video of my new STUDIO. Visit my page "Brenda Swenson Watercolors".

 I intend to keep teaching workshops nationwide and abroad.  I love to see new places and make new friends. I wouldn’t give that up!

Please see the list below for workshop dates and locations. 

Happy Painting!

----Workshop Schedule 2015, Workshop Schedule 2015----

February 21-22, 2015 FULL
Negative Painting with Watercolor
2-Day Workshop 
San Diego Watercolor Society

March 9-13, 2015 FULL
Negative Painting with Watercolor
5-Day Workshop
The Villages Art Workshops
Villages, FL
Contact: Bev 

April 11, 2015
Plein Air Painters of Riverside (PAPR) 
1/2 Day Workshop (1:15-5:15)

May 1, 2 & 3, 2015
Sketching with watercolor En Plein Air (outdoors)
3-Day Workshop
Pasadena, CA
Contact: Brenda

May 18, 19 & 20, 2015
The Illustrated Journal
3-Day Workshop
the STUDIO (7 Students)
South Pasadena, CA
Contact: Brenda

July 13, 14 & 15, 2015
Negative Painting
3-Day Workshop
the STUDIO (7 Students)
South Pasadena, CA
Contact: Brenda

August 3-7, 2015
Sketching Techniques with Watercolor
5-Day Workshop
Cheap Joe’s Art Stuff
Boone, NC

September 28, 29 & 30, 2015
Sketching Techniques
3-Day Workshop
the STUDIO (7 Students)
South Pasadena, CA
Contact: Brenda

October 26, 27 & 28, 2015
Stained Paper Collage
3-Day Workshop 
the STUDIO (7 Students)
South Pasadena, CA
Contact: Brenda

*I have many workshops planned for 2016...including two trips to Provence, France. Visit my website for additional information. Website

Monday, January 26, 2015


Recently I hinted big changes were coming in my life and I'd let you know more when it was time. Now I can tell you. Last September I was in New Mexico for two weeks. I felt inspired, energized and happy being surrounded by beautiful colors, texture and art. When I returned home I knew something needed to change. I needed a larger space to work away from home. I'd exhausted every corner in my home/studio. The space now felt claustrophobic. I began the search for a new studio space immediately. 

November I signed a lease, December 3rd I had keys, 30 minutes later with my husband in charge of tear down and was full speed ahead!!! If I told you everything he can accomplish in a short time frame you wouldn't believe me. With a crew of two guys the rebuild was finished on Christmas Eve! While the guys were busy with construction I spent my time getting all the paper work in place (business license, city planner, insurance, fire inspection...), planning for Christmas, searching for STUDIO furniture, and spending time with my Dad. The month was an emotional roller coaster. One foot was in joy and on foot in grief (Dad is dying from cancer).

New Year's Eve was moving day. Twenty-five years of painting and teaching materials is a lot of stuff! I had everything packed and ready and it still took three guys six hours to move it all. I spent the next week putting everything in it's place. I love organizing stuff!

I'm so excited about the STUDIO and all it holds for the future. It's a creative space to work, play and be with like minded people. I can't wait to welcome friends and share the joy of being in a creative space filled with light, beauty and inspiration. I even made a sitting area called the nook. I love this little area so much I painted it.

In the near future I plan to host workshops and they will be limited to 7 people. I'll be able to spend more one-on-one time with my students. How sweet is that!   

Did I mention the STUDIO is a 10 minute walk from home and there's a coffee house down stairs? I know, I's almost too good to be true!

Happy Painting!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Gift of Friends

Dear Friends,
You have given me so much joy, laughter and inspiration. You've also showered me with words of comfort and love in times of need. Blessings to you this holiday season and may you find a sense of Peace, Joy and Love in your Home, Family & World. 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

A Time of Reflection

Hope you'll allow me to share whats going on in my life. This last year has been an emotional roller coaster. Often I've had one foot in joy and one foot in grief. I've been blessed with a healthy new grand child named Caleb, my son Daniel continues to be cancer free, my son Thomas had a successful salmon season on his own boat, I spent 25 days in Italy teaching and painting, I’ve enjoyed numerous artistic achievements and we celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary. I have so much to be thankful for...and I am!

In July this year I lost my Step-Dad Jere to cancer. I've spent more time with my Mom in these last few months. I enjoy our weekly get togethers. Were getting to know each other in a new way. It's a nice experience.

Doing what he loved most...hiking.
Now I fear the greatest sorrow will visit me soon. My dad, Wes has been fighting cancer for 14 years. The day before Thanksgiving he began Hospice Care of home. I spend time with him every day. Some days he is alert and we have fun conversations and some days he barely wakes at all. But sleeping is probably the best thing right now. Hospice is doing their best but the pain is difficult to keep under control.

My Dad has lived a good life and he’s lived it his way. He retired in his early 50’s. Had more adventures than most people dream of. He’s been generous with “his girls” and shared the adventure along the way. We’ve flown in his hot air balloons, sailed in his boats, backpacked and hiked the High Sierras, rode horses & motorcycles, snow skied & snowmobiled, mountain biked, travel to distant lands…and shared more cookies and ice cream than you’d ever imagine! He taught me to appreciate art and bought me my first easel.  I love my dad.
Sharing a sketchbook with Dad.

I have no false illusions that my Dad will get better…I know that. I would like to ask for your prayers. Please pray for my dad, his wife Sheryle and all his girls. Help us to be there for him and for each other as we learn to live without him.

Without question, I’ve entered the Advent season with a heavy heart.  I remain thankful for all the blessings in my life and I start each day with prayers of thanks. The tears fall...a lot. I am thankful for the memories that will last a lifetime, hope, faith, family, friends, and art! 

Blessings, Brenda

Monday, November 17, 2014

Watercolor Workshop

I can't believe next week we'll be celebrating Thanksgiving! Where has the time gone? Okay I know the answer to that question. 

What a year it has been filled and with incredible highs like the birth of a grandchild, continued health of my children, travel, workshops and new friends. It's also been a year I've had to say good-bye to loved ones.

Now it's time to look ahead. I am listing the first three workshops of 2015. I have many other exciting events coming up but I can't reveal details...just yet. I promise you'll be the first to know (wink).

Happy Painting!

January 16, 17 & 18, 2015
3-Day Workshop
Sketching in Watercolor
Orange, CA
Phone: (714) 633-0653 

February 21-22, 2015
2-Day workshop
Negative Painting with Watercolor
San Diego Watercolor Society
Non Members Fee: $290.00
Members Fee: $250.00

March 9-13, 2015
5-Day Workshop
Negative Painting with Watercolor
The Villages Art Workshops, Villages, FL
Contact: Bev  352-753-1383,

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Home Again, Home Again!

Room with a view!
Seems like I am either coming or going these days.  I just returned from Tuscany after teaching two workshops in 25 days. I got home just in the nick of time, too! I was blessed with the arrival of a new grandson named Caleb only 8 hours after I got home...Life is good! Everyone is healthy and doing fine.

Tuscany was beautiful, the weather was...exciting! My home base for the workshops was Lucca. We stayed in a beautifully restored Tuscan farmhouse in the hills. The first couple weeks we had thunder and lightning storms that made the earth shake and the sky come alive. I loved it! The end of October was clear, crisp and lovely. I could see and feel the change of seasons.
Our Chef Karolina
 Some people live to eat, other eat to live. Anyone who knows me knows I'm not overly motived by food. All that changed!!! We were treated to some of the best meals I've EVER had. The food was delicious, unique, varied, tasty, relaxing, and entertaining. The evening the group had a cooking lesson was a hit, too. I've never looked forward to meals like this before. I'm sure gonna miss Karolina and her cooking!

Every adventure comes its down falls (pun intended). I made the mistake of not turning on the lights and missed a step. I had the opportunity to sit on the floor a while and survey the error of my ways. I sprained my ankle and bruised my knee when I fell. I was very lucky not to  break a bone. The good thing is, if I had to be laid up for a couple days, my timing was perfect. I had two days off before my next workshop started. I moved a little slower for a few days but the accident didn't effect the remainder of my time in Tuscany. I can't express how grateful I feel. I could have seriously hurt myself or ruined the workshop for others. Attitude of gratitude!

Group in Volterra
In Volterra we had lots of opportunities to sketch and paint. It was my first visit to the hill town. The town is charming, small, perched on a hill and  with amazing views from within the walls and looking out over the valley below. 

In Lucca was attended a Puccini concert in an old church, sketched in the Palazzo Pfanner Garden and Villa, shopped, ate gelato, walked around the wall and wandered the city.

Lerici is a charming little fishing village just below the Cinque Terres, but it's not touristy or crowded! From the shoreline the view is wide and old fortress, pastel colored houses, fishing boats, villas perched on the hills... So many lovely sights filled with beauty, history, color, texture and friendly people. 

I love to sketch, paint and explore the beautiful locations of our world, be with fellow artists, experience new cultures, try new food...but it is good to be home and with my family. It's time to recharge, relax, finish paintings and spend time with those I love. The addition of our new grandson reminds me how precious life is and how quickly it passes.