Copyright Notice

© Copyright 2021 Brenda Swenson retains copyrights to all images (artwork and reference photographs). All images on this site are property of Brenda Swenson and may not be used in any way for commercial, financial or personal use without written consent. Brenda Swenson retains all rights to republication (printed and digital) and anything but personal viewing of artworks.

Monday, May 10, 2021


Have you wondered what the technique of Negative Painting is all about? You're not alone! Now's your chance to see me paint/demo LIVE. That's right! 

Saturday, May 15th. I'll be sharing my approach to"negative painting." You'll see how I create glowing lights by using transparent glazes and saturated color to carve out shapes in the negative space. 
Subject: White blossoms on branch. Horizontal format (not image in photo)
Questions & Answers: Following demo

Hosted by: California Art Club
CAC Members: $25, Non-Members: $35
Location: Online via Zoom
Date: Saturday, May 1
Time: 10:00 a.m. - 11:00 a.m. PT
Deadline to Register: Friday, May 14, at 6 p.m. PT

Questions? Contact organizer directly at
Note: Demo will be available to registered participants to view for a limited time post-event. A link will be sent out once uploaded.

Friday, April 2, 2021

Sketch Collage: San Juan Capistrano

Do you remember the old movie posters that had multiple images that gave you the highlights of the best scenes? I do. They were beautiful! They were called a montage.

The technique of selecting, editing and piecing together separate scenes of a film to form a continuous whole. I often feel one sketch isn’t enough to capture the feeling of a place. This is when I sketch multiple objects on a page. I call this a "Sketch Collage". These sketches tell a bigger story of what I was seeing and experiencing. The very word "collage" means collection or gathering which is perfect for this approach. It’s not to be confused with a literal collage of torn papers assembled on a page and glued down. The challenge is arranging elements in a way that the page has a flow and balance.

Last weekend we visited San Juan Capistrano Mission. The day was warm and sunny, flowers were blooming and butterflies were flitting about. I wanted my “Sketch Collage” of San Juan Capistrano to feel painterly and less like an illustration, so I used pencil. The whites of the paper move the eye into the scene from the edges of the page.

Tips (not rules)

*Complete a sketch collage in one sitting or add images to a page over a span of time (a day or a week).

*Don't worry about objects being true to size in relation to each other. The poppies are bigger than the tower.

*Variety of sized objects.

*Have objects such as people, signs, road…pointed into the page. I didn’t follow the rule here and the Butterly is pointing out. It’s okay to change things up!

*Have objects overlap each other.

*Use a border around or a box to tie areas together. See how I put the butterfly in a box and used blue from the sky in the box to tie the upper and lower sections together.

Wherever you are…. be safe, healthy and creative!

Happy Easter!


I'm re-entering the workshop world with ample caution. I’m hosting 3 workshops at my STUDIO, May, June & July.  ONLY 3 participants per workshop that are fully vaccinated. If the COVID vaccines goes against your principles, I respect your decision but unfortunately I won’t be able to accommodate you at this time.  website.

Monday, February 8, 2021

Art of Letting Go

Again, I turn to my sketchbook as a tool for comfort and healing. I’m more comfortable
with writing then I use to be…but images are my first choice of communication. In my sketch I’m able to express myself in ways words won't do.

Last week my mother passed away suddenly in her home. She was 84 years and one day. The cutting reality is, I will never see her again on this earth. I worry my memory will fade. Sketching with pencil, pen or brush is a powerful tool. I find comfort. In a sketch I honor her act of love…time spent alone with her. My eyes carefully studying every angle and subtlety in her facial features. When I am done her image is forever burned into my mind...and then I find rest.

I found a photo of my mom that felt unposed and real. The photo was taken many years ago before illness and age left its mark and changed her (mentally and physically). Studying her face was comforting. About halfway into my sketch something was off. I tried to find the answer in the photo, but it wasn't there. I wasn't able to capture the essence that was her. Over many days I would glance at my sketch trying to see what I had missed. And then I realized, the answer was in my own face. So, I photographed my face at the same angle. Through my image I was able to finish the sketch. A piece of her is in me. My reflection, my mannerisms…my love of all things creative.

Trying to hang on to someone is like holding onto a rope that was slipping through my hands. The tighter I held on, the more painful it became… so I let go. The process of drawing my mother was healing. I grew in the process of understanding. The realization that part of her remains in me. 

Even during these never ending days and months (thanks to COVID-19) I am creative, productive and hopeful for tomorrow. Anything that stops growing begins to die and I'm still growing because I am alive!

Be well and creative,


Sunday, January 17, 2021


It's Finally Here!

.......VIDEO RELEASE!!!!!

Negative painting is the technique explored and demonstrated. It's just like being in one of my workshops...without traveling! 

Here’s some of what you’ll discover: 
  • Developing your composition with layers of color 
  • Unravel the mystery of paint
  • Painting around a subject to find definition
  • Apply transparent glazes to create shapes and depth of color
  • Develop your skills when painting wet into wet, under-paintings, and wet passages
  • Experience Brenda creating paintings that glow — now you’ll know how, too!
  • Demystify negative painting (and paint with more confidence!)
  • NEVER struggle with color again … you’ll know just what to do!
  • Proper design for this type of painting
  • Capture light like never before (yes, with watercolor!)
  • Create depth and interest (Brenda shows you how!)
  • Positively accentuate the negative (negative space that is!)
  • Uncover the characteristics of paint (you’ll be surprised at what you DON’T know!)
  • Ooops … oh well, find the humor in it and move on…

See a short video, in-depth video description, purchase options: Glowing Watercolors: Available in DVD or Download

On the same day as the full release, January 23rd. I have a Facebook Live event hosted by Streamline. You'll see a segment of the video and I'll be answering your questions in the comment section.  

Event Details:Brenda Swenson "Glowing Watercolors" on Saturday, Jan 23rd at 3pm ET (that's noon for my West Coast friends). 

I'm often asked to teach online, zoom or other platforms. For personal reasons it's not for me. What I can offer is this video. I am really proud of it and the instructional information I'm able to offer. The video is 3 hours long but consists of two full days of filming, countless weeks of preparation and years of teaching. It's the best learning experience I can offer.

Hope you enjoy!


Sunday, January 10, 2021

Pull the Plug or Continue

These are dark and troubling times for the human heart…we are a hurting nation and world. 

Before the horrid events of Wednesday I was formulating what was going to be my last blog post. Why? With the creation of Zoom, Facebook Live and other platforms people now have other ways to learn and be inspired. I wasn’t sure if you needed what I was sharing anymore and thought my blog had run its course. Since most people receive my posts via email I’m not getting the same kind of feedback on my blog in comments section. When an anonymous person (troll) wrote a personal attack in the comments. I thought, that's enough. 

Wednesday morning I was painting on location when the alert came over my phone… attack on the Capitol. I absolutely lost it. I started crying and I couldn’t stop. After an hour I still couldn’t regain my composure. I couldn’t paint so I packed up and went home. Everything built up inside came flowing out in tears that wouldn’t stop. After a day I ended up posting something on Facebook in an attempt to find hope. I said, “Hope deferred makes a heart sick…I don't have any answers I just know 2020 was a disaster and 2021 is off to a lousy start. Looking for hope in a sick world and society”.  I’m not alone in how I feel nor am I comfortable showing my vulnerable side to the world (trolls attack the weak underbelly). The pandemic has amplified the feeling of being alone. I struggled to reach out to say I hurt and need help to see a brighter day will come. More than ever we need each other. On that dark day Facebook became my lifeline with words of comfort, encouragement and a pep talk. We each have a gift. Some are: comforters, cheerleaders, listeners, prayer partner, a bakers, a writers…? We can’t be all things to all people but we can be something. 

So many people came through for me on that day and I’m extremely grateful. I’d like to highlight one comment in particular (though all touched my heart). 
Here’s what he wrote: 
“Never, ever let this happen. To allow the acts of some to influence your ability to want to make art. Art is the beauty of the world and it (the beauty) still exists. You suck it up cupcake and get back to work and post more. I did both yesterday and today. There are people out here in this electronic land that we are conversing on right now that depend on you and I to help them deal with stupidity. You have been given a gift by the good Lord. Use it for what it was intended. I love ya buddy. Go to work, now”. ~Tom 

I took Tom’s advice and got back to work. I finished the painting began that dreadful Wednesday morning…
I’ve also come to the understanding that my lessons (art and life lessons) on my blog does matter. I can’t be all things to all people but I can do this. 

Be well and creative, 

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Happy and Healthy Holidays to You

Dear Friends,

Christmas Eve is here... It's hard to believe.  We never got to properly celebrate all the other holidays with friends, family and loved ones. 

“If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans”. ~ Woody Allen.

Time has a way of marching on whether we like it or not. Once I realized holding tight to my hopes and dreams was a waste of energy I let go. I was happier. I hope you have found some comfort in a new routine and joys. 

With each passing day I still hang on to HOPE. I hope and pray 2021 will bring a better day when we can safely be together, again. Prayers for continued health and that the vaccine will provide the results needed (nationwide and abroad). A safer world for us all. We have a ways to go! Please remain vigilant in protecting yourself and others.



Don't worry...battery candle

Saturday, December 5, 2020

What Does Watercolor Give Me?

The best description of watercolor is, it’s alive. It’s a dance between you, paint and the surface moisture on the paper… stepping into or pulling back. Watercolor requires you stay awake and respond to what’s happening on the surface. Never turn your back while the paper is wet…stay awake! I once heard someone say, ”Oil is like a dog, it wants to obey. Watercolor is like a cat, it does as it pleases”. I couldn’t agree more!

How important is it to understand materials in watercolor? Why?

Let’s start with paper. Understanding the materials can save a lot of frustration, wasted time and money. Watercolor paper isn’t something you want to skimp on. Every surface (cold press, hot press, rough) acts differently. Knowing how surfaces will react will save a lot of frustration. The weight of watercolor paper (90lbs-300lbs) varies greatly. Too light the paper will warp, too heavy and the pigment soaks deep into the paper and slows drying time. Lighter paper 90lbs is fine for watercolor sketches, dry brush or light washes. Heavier 140lbs to 200lbs cold press is my preferred weight and surface for painting.


Where do you see students struggling with materials? 

Student grade materials are a recipe for frustration. I would rather see students attend workshops with limited supplies that are artist grade than an abundance of student grade paint, paper and brushes. In the past, good brushes were very expensive. With modern technology synthetic brushes can fool an experienced painter. You don’t have to over pay to have quality. Most people own more colors than necessary. You will learn more with a limited palette of 8 colors. But don’t be cheap with watercolor paper!

Could you walk us through your process? What do you need to have figured out at each stage?

Step 1: Find my Inspiration

Step 2: Know my focus

Step 3: Creating a interesting design with a compelling value plan

Step 4: Draw

Step 5: Paint

Step 6: Know when to stop

For your reference: What do you take more or less directly and what do you translate? Why?

I’m not restricted by what I see. If I need to move a building, add people, change a color…I do so. As a painter it’s my job to create a scene or tell a story. If I’m not willing to change things I might as well frame a photograph and be done.

When I use a photo reference it will be in addition to a sketch. Either a watercolor sketch or value study. I will refer to the reference photo if necessary for architectural accents or signage. Black and white photo are the best for simplifying shapes and values!

“Don’t state the truth, tell me a beautiful lie”.~Gerald Brommer

What’s the biggest challenge you see with students and color?

Color is complicated. The task of understanding pigment as it relates to watercolor is compounded by understanding paint characteristics: granulating, staining, transparent, opaque and semi-opaque. Once someone wraps their head around these characteristics the possibilities of watercolor opens in new and exciting ways.

What kind of pigments do you use and what do those choices allow you to do? 

I mainly use transparent paints and a few semi-opaque pigments. I like the freedom of being able to develop a painting with transparent colors without worrying the colors will go flat or muddy. I can create glowing surfaces with multiple glazes while creating interesting and complex shapes with each glaze. 

There’s nothing wrong with opaques but they do not work for negative painting. My plein air palette has several opaque colors. Why? Opaque pigments are perfectly suited for creating body color and atmospheric perspective (fog, distance, skies…)

How important is drawing? Why? 

You learn to see through drawing. Drawing is the first thing people should be concerned with. Watercolor requires more forethought than other mediums. You can’t correct things like oil or acrylic. Drawing is where design is learned and values honed. Without drawing skills I have nothing. Perhaps that sounds drastic to some, but not to me! 

You paint en plein air and are sketching constantly from life. What has plein air painting and sketching given you as an artist? 

I used to dread plein air and would cringe when someone looked over my shoulder. Today I absolutely love it! I love being surrounded by my subject, feeling the warmth or chill on my skin, the smell of the earth or a coffee shop and the sounds that surround me. My love of light and its effect on a subject came from plein air. Learning to sit and observe my environment has given me a stronger awareness and understanding of my world. I literally feel a shot of adrenaline and have a heightened awareness of everything around me. Painting plein air is addicting! 

Would you like to learn more? I have two other great opportunities coming up in January! 

A day will come when it's safe to teach and paint in person again. I can't wait to see everyone's smiling, happy faces. Please stay safe until we meet again.

Love and hugs,