Wednesday, June 24, 2015

How to Set-Up a Watercolor Travel Palette

The warmer days of Summer are here! We are heading outside to travel,  sketch and paint. 

Not a lot of information is available on how to
set up a watercolor palette... so I figured I'd share my thoughts, technique and paint choices. 

The palette I am shown is a Heritage Folding Palette with 18 wells. It is one of the nicest travel palettes I have seen in a while and a great price. The lid has a soft plastic seal, which keeps the palette from leaking and keeps your colors from drying out quickly. It comes with a removable clear plastic tray. I don't use the tray since the palette has an ample mixing area. 

(1) Before I use a palette I give it a light scrubbing with a mild abrasive such as baking soda or soft scrub. This takes the slick surface off the mixing area and removes any residues from the manufacturing. Be sure to thoroughly rinse off the palette…you don’t want this in your paint.

(3) Thumb indentation
(2) I fill the 18 wells with my favorite selection of paint. Don’t put tiny dabs of paint in the wells. FILL the wells! Tiny dabs of paint will eventually just fall out. Hold the tube over the deep end of the well then come back towards the shallow end while squeezing the tube.

(3) Let the palette sit open for a day or two (longer in damp climates). When the paint had set up and is no longer sticky I wet my thumb and push down in the center of each well. What this does is create an indentation for the water. When I get ready to paint I lightly mist the paint wells and I am ready to go.

Paint mixes and mingles on palette
Here you can see how nicely the paint mixes and mingles because the palette was prepared with a mild abrasive.

Air Travel 
I travel a lot to teach and paint. I never want to arrive and find my art supplies have gone else where without me! I ALWAYS take my palette in my carry on luggage along with my brushes. I don't bring paint tubes but instead fill my palette with fresh paint a few days before and let air dry so the paint becomes more solid. When I arrive at my destination I mist the paint with fresh water, put a small sponge inside and close overnight. The next day the paint are fresh and juicy again.  I haven't had a problem with airport security, yet.

Paint Color Choices
Here you can see how I lay out my paint. Some of the paint locations may not make sense to you but it does to me. All of my paints are Daniel Smith Artist Watercolors. Occasionally I will switch Italian Burnt Sienna for Transparent Red Oxide.

Next to the paint name you'll notice numbers beginning with "P". These numbers refer to the Index Code Name. Example: Nickel Azo Yellow PY150. The number refers to the pigment used to make the paint, not the order reference number.

Now...get out and sketch!


Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Texture and Watercolor

If texture is what you’re after (which I am) you're gonna love DANIEL SMITH PrimaTek paints! PrimaTek Watercolors mix beautifully with other paints on your palette and bring excitement to the surface of a painting. They are heavier in body and settle into the valleys of your paper leaving behind wonderful granulation and texture. The pigments were carefully selected to give you a wide range of colors and textures you'll find nowhere else. When mixed with other colors the possibilities are endless.

The PrimaTeks:
  • Rhodonite Genuine, 5ml
  • Jadeite Genuine, 5ml
  • Amethyst Genuine, 5ml
  • Mayan Blue Genuine, 5ml
  • Hematite Genuine, 5ml
  • Piemontite Genuine, 5ml

Pomegranate Demo, By Brenda Swenson
Demonstration includes colors in the Essentials Watercolor Set.

Step 1:
I start with a drawing done with a 2B pencil on Arches 140lb cold press paper. I draw very simply for placement and proportions.

Step 2:
Paint the big shape first. On my palette I make three puddles of paint, New Gamboge, Piemontite Genuine and Rhodonite Genuine. I paint both pomegranates at once with New Gamboge. While the paint is still very wet I add Piemontite Genuine to the shadowed (left) side of the right pomegranate and to the underside of the other. Before the passage has lost its shine I add Rhodonite Genuine to the top of the right pomegranate. Timing is important when working back into a wet area. Once the shine is gone...don't touch, let dry! I begin painting the seeds…

Step 3:
The seeds are painted wet into wet using Rhodonite Genuine as the base color and touches of Amethyst Genuine for the darker seeds. The membrane section is a light value of New Gamboge and Piemontite Genuine.

Step 4:
Cast shadows are often overlooked in paintings and lack excitement. When I paint cast shadows I like to see reflected light and colors in the shadows. I start by painting the overall shadow shape mid-value of French Ultramarine. Before this paint looses it shine I add a small amount of New Gamboge and Rhodonite Genuine to add life and interest.

Step 5:
Next I focus on the form shadows. The form shadows are on the left side and underneath. On my palette I make two puddles of paint, Piemontite Genuine and Rhodonite Genuine. The form shadow is a darker value of the original color. Careful attention needs to be given to the edges. I lay down the paint but before it has a chance to dry or loose its shine I use a damp brush to soften and fade out the paint. I then add the cast shadow on the top.

Step 6:
In the final stage I have fun playing with the background. The sedimentary nature of the PrimaTek paints makes exciting things happen! On my palette I make two big puddles: Mayan Blue Genuine and Jadeite Genuine. I start by painting with Mayan Blue Genuine and immediately add Jadeite Genuine. Before the paint has a chance to set up I drop in a little Rhodonite Genuine. The addition of this color relates to the pomegranates and adds a touch of warmth to a cool area. Now I use a spray bottle to push the paint around. Why do I do this? It's fun to move and mix pigment without overworking the surface with a paint brush. I tilt the paper so I can control the spray and flow of water. I keep a towel near to wipe up the excess water.
I hope this demo has inspired you to explore PrimaTek paints. The addition of new pigments can add texture and excitement to your paintings. 

If your interested in trying these paints by Daniel Smith here's a link... CLICK HERE

Happy Painting!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Don't Carpet Your Rut

"Don't carpet your rut". The quote reminds me not to get to comfortable doing the same thing over and over.

How many ways can I represent a subject but say it differently? The answer...endless.

I enjoy exploring new ways of expressing myself with
different techniques, tools and materials. Instead of always relying on the same technique I sketch the same subject but different ways. Tools are many: pen, pencil, watercolor, gouache, acrylic… Techniques are many: contour (blind and continual line too), crosshatch, stipple... I am sure you can add to the lists!

The California poppy is a flower that’s recognizable not only for its bright orange color but also for its shape. Here is a fun example of numerous ways to explore techniques using one subject.

I encourage you to find something to draw/paint. Get out your supplies and see how ways you can show the subject in a new way. I've only scratched the surface. The drawings don't need to be very big (3x5 or 4x6).

I'm curious to hear how many sketches you can come up with. Trust me you'll begin to see the world with new eyes.

Happy Sketching!


Thursday, May 7, 2015

Hollyhocks Painting Demonstration

Recently I've had the opportunity to work on a couple projects with Daniel Smith Artists' Materials. Their paints have been a mainstay in my palette for years. 

For this demonstration of the "Hollyhock" I worked with a set called the "Essentials". The new set has six 5ml transparent watercolors. The pigments were carefully selected to give you a wide range of colors and values. When mixed together the colors you can create are endless! 

Hansa Yellow Light, 5ml
New Gamboge, 5ml
Quinacridone Rose, 5ml
Pyrrol Scarlet, 5ml
Phthalo Blue GS, 5ml
French Ultramarine, 5ml

Hollyhocks, By Brenda Swenson

Step #1 Drawing
Step 1: Drawing
I start by drawing with a 2B pencil on Arches 140lb cold press paper. I am especially aware of the space and shapes between the flowers, stem and leaves (negative space). I want shape and size variety. I draw enough to get the general shapes, but don't over draw. I want to leave opportunities for shapes to develop in the painting process. 

Step #2

Step 2: Selecting Colors 
I use transparent paint to build up glazes. To determine which 3 colors I will use for the underpainting I make numerous color swatches. The paint needs to be the same consistency to encourage good mixing on the paper. I'm looking for interesting combinations (how they mix when wet, range of colors, range of values and do they relate to my subject). The 3 paint colors I selected are Daniel Smith: Hansa Yellow Light (HYM), Quinacridone Rose (QR), and Phthalo Blue GS.

Step #3

Step 3: Underpainting
I wet the entire paper with clean water and introduce the 3 paint colors separately onto the wet surface. I paint at an angle to encourage mixing as the paint moves. I don’t over work the surface with a paint brush but encourage the paint to mix on the paper. Let completely dry.

Step #4 Glazing

Step 4: Start Glazing
I continue with my Mother Colors (original 3 colors) but I also pull out French Ultramarine and New Gamboge. When I bring a new color to the mix it always touches one of the Mother Colors. I start at the top working my way down the paper with a mixture of French Ultramarine and New Gamboge. Painting hard edges against the flowers to carve out the big shapes. As I move down the page I push the colors towards green with Phthalo Blue GS. Let completely dry.

Step #5 Shadow

Step 5: Shadows
I begin to define the flowers with a mixture of Quinacridone Rose and Pyrrol Scarlet. The surface is completely dry. As the form turns towards the light I have a variety of edges. Form shadows have soft edges and cast shadows have hard edges. I soften the form shadow edges with clean water. Let completely dry.

Step #6 Final
Step 6: Negative Painting and Final Details 
In the final stage I paint the darkest darks, smallest shapes and add final details. I focus on carving around the shapes (negative painting) to suggest the stem and leaves. On my palette I make two puddles of Phthalo Blue GS and Hansa Yellow Light. I allow these two puddles to mingle slightly. I don't let the colors over mix. Each brush load will have a slight shift in color. I also drop a little Quinacridone Rose into the darkest area of green below the largest flower. The unexpected warmth livens up the area.

I finish by adding final details. I start with the center of the largest flower using Phthalo Blue GS and while still wet I add a touch of New Gamboge. Next I paint the darkest shadows on the flower petals. I make a reddish purple mixture with French Ultramarine and Quinacridone Rose. The greatest saturation of color will be in the darkest shadows.

Hope you’ve enjoyed this short demonstration. If you were unfamiliar with these paint colors hopefully I’ve opened your eyes to their wonderful transparency, richness and mixing ability!
You can see them here: The Essentials

Happy Painting!

Monday, April 20, 2015

California Images & History, this weekend!

Lots of fun events this weekend, April 24, 25 & 26.  I'm one of 33 invited artists participating in the 39th Annual Festival of Arts. The kick off is Friday night with a Premier Gallery Opening & Reception. 

Saturday is the Plein Air Event. Artists in the festival will be painting En Plein Air. You're invited to come watch the painters (free) and stick around for the live auction afterwards. Sunday is a Quick Draw & Auction, Art Seminar... 
Did I mention all of this is free with the exception of Friday & Saturday night reception & dinner! And of course unless you decide to take home a painting (or two, wink). 

If you'd like to know more please contact the Festival of Arts at:  Phone (909) 599-5374

I'll be at the Festival all weekend. 
Hope to see you,

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Gone From My Sight

My dad is gone from my sight but forever in my heart. 

During his final months I was able to pour out my love and gratitude on him...this was nothing new. He always knew I loved and adored him. Thankfully we lived close to each other. In the final months I often sat at his feet or beside his bed. I needed to understand what was happening to him and his if knowing would allow me to help him along the way. I learned a lot about's a road to be walked alone. I found two books very helpful. "Gone From My Sight" by Barbara Karnes and "Final Gifts" by Maggie Callanan and Patricia Kelley. 
My dad taught me to appreciate art. He dabbled in oils for a few years and later on became a serious art collector. He showed me through example that art was something of value to appreciate and enjoy. He knew what art meant to me and he was proud of my achievements. He loved to hear my stories about art shows, workshops, plein air painting, and travels. He would beam with joy.

My Dad 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 was generous and we enjoyed many adventures with him. 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 we shared more cookies and ice cream than you’d ever imagine. He had a sweet tooth!

Recently I was given a picture of my dad. I put our childhood pictures

together and noticed something. Seeing a little bit of me in his face brings me comfort. It reminds me that from the beginning he has been alive in me and that he isn't completely gone. A piece of him lives on, in me. Not only through his likeness but in my love of art, the outdoors, hiking...and cookies!

Even in my sadness I feel blessed.

Dear Friends, Your emails and messages have been overwhelming. Thank you for all the kind words, understanding and comfort. My grief is lessened in knowing I am not alone. Thank you my friends.
Hugs, Brenda

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Spring Has Arrived

I stumbled upon the Arlington Gardens a few years ago.  I was running errands when out of nowhere I caught a burst of color. I pulled my car over to explore the site...Since 1961, the 3 acre lot was vacant. The site was slated to be been a staging area for the construction of the 710 Freeway. Over time the land became overrun with weeds, dirt, trash and dead trees. On that day  I found an Artistic Eden!

I eagerly await for spring to arrive at the gardens. Once I see a hint of colorI might visit numerous times a week. After church on Sunday Mike and I pick up lunch and have a little picnic. I am here to tell you...SPRING has arrived at the Arlington Gardens! On my morning walk I went to the gardens. I was expecting a little splash of spring colors but what I saw overwhelmed my senses with color, smells and beauty. God is the most magnificent gardener!  I couldn't drink in enough of the lovely scents and colors.

I highly recommend you visit the Arlington Gardens if you live in the Pasadena area. It's easy to find. It's on Arlington between Orange Grove and Pasadena Ave. 

Below is information t from their home  


Arlington Garden is open every day of the year for visiting at no charge. Individuals, families, students, artists, photographers visit Arlington Garden daily for education and enjoyment. The Garden’s layout and moveable furniture invite people to come in and stay rather than be quickly ushered in and out.

Arlington Garden is a demonstration of successful water wise gardening in Pasadena’s Mediterranean climate. Pasadena needs plant life that does well in our wet winters, hot, dry summers, and temperate falls and springs, to demonstrate how beautiful and effective a garden in harmony with our climate can be. Arlington Garden is home to
350 trees and thousands of Mediterranean climate plants that do well  low to moderate watering, and features California natives, cactus and   South African and Australian natives, irrigated by low flow devices that use less than half the water demanded by traditional parks.Arlington Garden is a place to find serenity in an urban setting. Arlington Garden has brought the serenity of nature to the City. A classical seven circuit labyrinth, a raised urbanite poppy set in the middle of the meadow, paths winding through trees and plants, and benches set throughout the Garden allow one to stroll or sit and experience some peace and quiet.

Happy Painting, Gardening 
and Happy Easter!