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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.

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!

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Framing Art Without Glass

Lately I’ve been looking into framing options. I don’t always want to use a mat, glass/acrylic. I am entering more shows that have oils and acrylics. These show do not have the same standards as watercolor societies and do not require a mat or glass/acrylic.

A word of WARNING…Most watercolor societies DO NOT allow a painting with any kind of varnish in a show. If you decide to explore these options you may not be able to enter the painting in a desired show…do your homework first!

After reading an article in Watercolor Artists Magazine I realized Claybord might have more possibilities that I thought. The product is made by Ampersand and has been around for a while. Claybord comes in a couple different surfaces.

Let me show you what I learned. I did two small pieces to explore the surface. I used the 5 x 7 Claybord, Textured. I used my inexpensive brushes since the surface felt rougher then watercolor paper. And the surface isn’t absorbent so I didn’t need a brush that held a lot of water.

The rooftop scene in Santa Barbara was done by wetting the Claybord first and letting the paint float on the surface in the same fashion as wet into wet. The surface does not absorb like watercolor paper and it takes longer for the surface to completely dry. It has interesting qualities that I like. 

 With the Persimmons I left a lot of the Claybord untouched and let the white of the Claybord exposed. I like how the paint moved on the surface and the colors remained bright. The surface has very little absorbency so the paint remains on the surface. It was easy to glaze on and get the results I wanted. I specially like how easy it was to lift paint and reclaim whites.

It’s important to seal the surface so the image has a barrier from the elements (dirt, smoke…) and light. I used KRYLON UV-Resistant, Acrylic Coating. I applied 3 or 4 coats. Let thoroughly dry between coats.
 In the video below you can see a side by side comparison of the matte and glossy finish.

You can stop here or go one step further.  My painting “Kettles & Cups” (below) has the addition of Dorland’s Wax. Read below…

When I want a special finish I use Dorland’s Wax. It is non-yellowing and adds a soft glow to the surface.

Step #1 Seal surface of painting with a couple light coats of UV-Resistant acrylic varnish
Step #2 Scoop out a small amount of wax with a lint free cloth and apply it in a circular motion.  As soon as your cloth "drags", scoop out more wax.
Step #3  Allow coat to dry 24 hours.
Step #4  Using a clean, dry and lint free cloth, buff the surface.  You'll see a very slight sheen.
Step #5 Apply a second coat, let dry 24 hours and buff to a slight sheen.

Kettles & Cups

There's a lot of information available on the internet when it comes to researching products. I won’t pretend to know it all but I can share what I’ve learned along the way.

Have you seen the April issue of Watercolor Artist Magazine? I have an article called "All Toned Up". You'll see my demonstration that became the painting above, "Kettles & Cups". Hope you check out the issue and read my complete article.
The painting was selected to be in the California Art Club, Gold Medal Exhibition. Opening reception this weekend. I've been busy!

Happy Painting!


Monday, January 14, 2019

Ink Testing

Ink Swatches to Test
I have sketched with ink for years. About 10 years ago I switched over to fountain pens because of the varied sizes of pens in my hands and the multitude of nibs available. I like the variety of lines that can be created with nibs of different widths and materials. I’ve enjoyed using fine, extra fine, medium, broad, italic, flex, music nib and more. But let’s save this topic for another day. 

When it comes to ink color I like anything but…black. The brands and colors I like come in bottles. I like light grey, brown and sepia tones. I have a few water soluble inks but I mostly use waterproof ink. 

I’ve read discussions on Facebook about different inks and how they react to sunlight, archival quality and whether they’re waterproof, semi waterproof or water soluble. As you know…If you ask a question on a public forum you'll get many opinions but not necessarily the correct answer. I did a little reseach on my own and found it challenging to find the information. I was searching for the lightfast and archival qualities of the inks.  

Lightfast: Not prone to discolor or fade when exposed to light.

Archival: pH neutral and acid free.

Materials Needed
I decided to do my own tests.
To start with, I made swatches of ink on 4"x 2" inch cards of 140lbs cold press (not) watercolor paper. When dry I covered half the swatch with another piece of watercolor paper. I put the swatches in a plastic sleeve and taped against a window for 30 days. These tests were done during the summer, 2018.

I made a short video showing the results of my tests. One of my favorites didn't pass the test...but I was pleasantly surprised by many others. Hope you find this information helpful. To be clear Lightfast: not prone to discolor or fade when exposed to light. Archival: Is pH neutral and acid-free. 

One of my favorite waterproof inks (water resistant) is the De Atramentis, Document ink. They have a wide assortment of colors that can be mixed.The De Atramentis Document Ink can be found at Goulet I like mixing the Brown and Red and then lighten a little with the De Atramentis Document Solution. Perfect sepia color!

To see all the results check out this short video by clicking on the image below or following this link:  Ink Testing Video

Happy Sketching!

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Full Speed Ahead

November is looking like a blur and December is full speed ahead!

Last month I was feeling low. The holidays are an emotional time of year for me (I’m not alone here). I was missing people in my family who have moved away or died in the last few years. With Thanksgiving a week away and I managed to pinched nerve in my lower back, break a crown and chipped another tooth. 

The California wildfires were raging in numerous communities. The suffering and loss was especially heart breaking. I felt helpless to make a difference. That’s when I was blessed with an idea. Have a “Fire Relief Sale”. It was an answer to my prayers. Quickly my sadness was replaced with joy... because I could do something for someone else! I could use my art to raise money. I had a new focus...not on me but on others.  I was feeling like myself again. 

Thank you for helping me make a difference to the victims of the California Wildfires. Within 30 hours I sold 25 paintings and countless calendars. I donated 100% of the profits to the American Red Cross and Animal Shelters (directly serving the areas effected). 

I have been deeply touched by the cards and letter that accompanied the checks. So many lovely messages, stories, well wishes and words of kindness. Thank you!

My back is almost normal again and I've been able to return to activities I enjoy without pain. I had another dentist appointment this morning. Almost good as new!

From my little family to yours…
Merry Christmas - Happy Hanukkah -  Season’s Greetings!
Brenda and Mike


Tuesday, November 20, 2018

FIRE relief SALE

I'm a native Californian. I love this state and the people in it. I live 5 miles from where I was born and I know where I’ll be buried. In a small cemetery near my grandparents. I am
deeply connected to this place I call home. Californians have suffered a lot lately…so much loss, pain and suffering. Numerous wildfires consumed and destroyed homes, streets and communities. People lost more than property…they lost loved ones: family, friends and pets. The number of people still unaccounted for is staggering. I can’t imagine how horrible their death was. The Camp Fire—the deadliest fire in California history. As of today (11-20) The Camp fire has charred 151,373 acres, 373 more acres than the last count announced Monday night. It stood at 70 percent containment, according to Cal Fire, and at least 16,838 buildings, 12,637 of them homes, were lost in the blaze.The Woolsey fire in Santa Monica has left behind a path of destruction, too.

I’ve felt overwhelmed and powerless. The bombardment of news became too much to watch. How can I help? What can I do? I am not trained or emotionally equipped. My heart is heavy.  In the quiet hours I’ve prayed for the victims, the survivors, the first responders, the volunteers…  What can I do? And then the answer came. I can sell my artwork and donate100% of the profits to the American Red Cross California Wildfires Response and Animal Shelter/Rescues (directly serving the areas effected). The money can help those who are trained and able to help the most. The thought I could use my artwork to help others is an answer to my prayer. I’m going to call it my FIRE Relief SALE.


To purchase a painting EMAIL ME directly with the painting #number (upper right corner).
I’ll reply with confirmation, purchase and shipping details. You have 7 business days for your check to arrive (no charge cards). I’ll send the painting right away. The price you pay includes taxes and shipping. Artwork does not include a mat or frame the dimensions are rounded off to the nearest inch. 

I have a limited number of Calendars for 2019 (sold out)Inside 12, 8x10 full color reproductions of my paintings. I will donate 100% of profits at $35.00 each (includes taxes and postage). 

If you'd like to help by purchasing a painting let me know by December 5th. Shipping of paintings and calendars is limited to the United States.

Happy Thanksgiving!
Thank you,

Update: 11/24
My heart is overflowing with thanks and gratitude. Every painting and calendar has been sold! You've done more than help the fire victims you've helped me. How? I've struggled with the question does my artwork make a difference in the world? The answer was…YES!  I was able to use the labor of my heart and hands (my paintings) to help others. Thanks you for making this possible!

With deep gratitude,

Here's all the paintings that went to good homes!

Thursday, November 15, 2018

A Lifetime of Observation

To understand the effects of light you'll need a lifetime of observation. Don't be daunted by the last sentence. Be excited that you have discovery ahead of you! 

Look for the presence of light and how it affects a subject. What most people don’t know…Shadows are where the most exciting color possibilities can be found...not gray! Light is what reveals form, color and texture. It can transform ordinary into something exciting! 
Look at the shadows. What color do you see? I see green, red and blue. NO GREY!
Do the shadows have hard or soft edges? Where?
(1) Cast shadows
Cast shadows have a distinct hard edge. Cast shadows will suggest the shape of the object that cast it. The further a cast shadow is from the source, the more it is effected by light. As a result a cast shadow will become warmer, and the edges softer and paler.

What COLOR do you see in the shadow?
(2) Form shadows
Form shadows have a softer, less defined edge. Because a form shadow is turning from the light source. Form shadows are delicate in appearance and important in making a subject appear three dimensional. The form shadow is lighter in value than the cast shadow.

(3) Reflective color in shadows.
The illuminated area near an object reflects (bounces) light into the shadows which carries color with it. This is called reflected light.

You’ll often hear the term Light Theory when talking about light. It simply means supposed to happen or possible…it’s not an exact science. It’s helpful to actually see the effects of light happening. Let me show you what I saw while painting outdoors recently.

Working en plein air (outdoors) has taught me a lot about light, color, edges...and working quickly to get the essence. I don't record every detail and leave a lot out. The large shadow across the pumpkin was edited out (yes, I can do that).
Would you like to paint with me in 2019? I have lots of workshops across the US and abroad. Be sure to check my workshop schedule for a complete listing: WORKSHOPS

Happy Thanksgiving!


Monday, October 15, 2018

Sketchbook Tour of Tuscany

I arrived in Florence four days before my workshop. I used the time to get over jet lag, explore, sketch, sightsee and shop. My favorite way to discover a city is on foot....walking. I like to sketch, sit in cafe with a cappuccino, shop in enjoy gelato. It's easy for me to walk all day and not feel tired. I'm often surprised to see how far I've walked by the end of the day. Six to eight miles is the average.  I enjoy finding unexpected views when I wander.  I want to FEEL the smell, hear, see and absorb everything. 

I left my sketchbag in the hotel room to travel lighter. It's easy to tuck in small spaces and go unnoticed when only sketching with a pen and the sketchbook. Florence was surprisingly hot and humid. The idea of sketching inside a church or museum was appealing.  Especially during the hottest time of the day. Inside was cool with lots of places to sit.
The amazing French Escapade 
Guides and Owners
Three days later I met up with the people in my first workshop and my tour guides. The workshop was hosted by French Escapade. We traveled by van to our home location. We drove in a long road with the vineyard on one side and an olive grove on the other. The air was filled with fresh smells and it was beautiful! Gone was the hustle and bustle of the city.
We sketched hill towns, small villages,  Tuscan countryside and historic cities. Each day was rich with history, beauty and culture. The evenings were filled with good food, lively conversations, shared stories and lots of laughter. It was fun to watch friendships develop.  I had an interesting mix of women from different countries: Norway, England, Australia, Guatemala, Canada and the US.

To see my finished sketches and hear my thoughts behind the images click on the video here.

There's nothing like an extended time to focus on nothing but creativity! No house cleaning, grocery shopping, appointments, yard work, bills to pay, errands or cooking. When my only concern is sketching and teaching my mind is free to reach deeper areas of creativity.

The first time I visited Italy I didn't sketch at all. I know that's hard to believe! But that was many years ago. I was traveling with 5 family members. No matter how well intending people are, it's no fun to sketch when people are waiting for you to get done. Since that first trip I have taught eight workshops in Tuscany, three in France, one in Spain and next year Belgium. Not bad for bad for a small-town girl!

Next year I have workshops all across the US and two in Belgium. To see my schedule and workshop locations please visit: Workshops 2019

Happy Sketching! Brenda