Category Archives: Watercolor

Art and Garden Ideas . . .



I have been gardening in this place for so long, it amazes me that I come up with ways to do things differently every year. It is NEVER the same-old, same-old.

I run five fountains which the birds and I all love, and three of them are terra cotta clay – consisting of a hollow base and bowl top.

They are HEAVY!

Birds are DIRTY!

I found myself having to empty and clean the fountain bowl every couple days and lifting that thing full of water is killer.

I was at my garden center and saw an assortment of plastic pot saucers and the largest were rather deep and LARGE. Light bulbs went off. But I hate plastic in my garden (and most other places too). Surely, even the most neutral, cream colored version would look hideous on that terra cotta base, right?

But my achin’ back said to try it, and I was surprised by the result. From across the courtyard where I sit on my swing, it looks like they match – and you can’t tell it’s plastic at all.


That is the original terra cotta bowl on the ground at the left.

There are now some white Cosmos planted at the front of that flower bed. When I did the art journal sketch above, there was just the flowering mound of Candytuft which is the green behind the Cosmos now flowerless.

Here’s another view of the birdbath fountain. . .


That bare earth in the back corner will be filled with Hummingbird mint as the Summer moves along.

In this birdbath, I have a Waterfall Rock. This is a resin rock sculpture which looks like a stack of slate and encloses a recirculating pump which I have found to be very reliable and resilient. We sell them at my gallery ($40), and of course, I use them at home. I run them in heated bird baths in the winter, and twice, the power went out in the middle of the night and froze the birdbath solid. As soon as things melted, this pump went right on running.


So, the long and short of it is that you can create a great birdbath for the price of a large plastic pot saucer ($15) and anything to set it on. A wrought iron plant stand would do fine. You can make your birdbath a fountain by adding some rocks and a small recirculating pump.

White Flowers on a Green Background . . .

One of the challenges of garden art journaling with watercolor is that most flowers are lighter than the green foliage around and behind them. Since watercolor is transparent, you can’t paint a light color over a dark.

So, masking fluid is the watercolorist’s best friend.

Let’s be honest . . . using masking fluid is usually a pain in the neck. It’s gooey and gummy and sticks in your brush if you don’t fill your brush with soap suds first. And once you have your brush filled with soap suds, it is not easy to mask small details.

I do know there are lots of alternatives – like white ink markers etc. but painting over those inks is not like painting on the paper.

So, masking fluid remains the best answer, and I have just recently found a brand that has become my favorite for many reasons, and of course, it comes from a watercolor company – Daniel Smith.


It comes in a squeeze bottle that has a fine tip. But it also comes with 5 extra fine tips which you stick on the bottle tip, and which result in you being able to “draw” very fine lines.

From a distance, a Candytuft blossom does not have much detail, so I didn’t want to mess with a soapy brush. I just wanted to scribble some little white flowers . . .


 The tiny squeeze tip worked great.

But, here’s the thing – you have to clean that tip. And the finest wire will not pass through. The manufacturer says to use up your first bottle of fluid, and then keep it for filling with water to clean the tips. You switch the tip from the active masking fluid bottle to the water bottle and squeeze a stream of water through the tip.

Cleaning MUST be done immediately after use.

You are never going to get that first bottle actually cleaned out, and you don’t want this gunk going down your sink (it’s latex rubber).

So, here’s my best advice:

Buy two bottles. Empty one right away into a small jar or something where you will be able to use it with a brush when masking larger areas. Make sure the jar seals tightly and use the smallest you can find so little air is in contact with the masking fluid.

Let the bottle you just emptied sit without its top on until the coating of fluid still inside hardens.

After that, you should be able to use it with water without any pieces of dried fluid clogging things up.

What would be easier?? Why the heck doesn’t Daniel Smith sell an empty bottle and extra tips for this product? I think I have to go ask them.

Monkey-Mind-fullness . . .

This, by the way is the opposite of mindfulness, and I am working on making the switch before I really do drive myself crazy.

Meanwhile, for as long as I have been blogging, I have been hindered by monkey-mind. I am interested in so many things and I keep thinking they should all be divided into different blogs, etc. – which only results in no blogging because I can’t decide where what and when.

So, starting with this post, my blog will be much more true to its name – Whatever.

Whatever my current dalliance, I am going to share it right here in this place.

Hopefully, that will result in more posting.

We shall see . . .

New Mailing List . . .

If you want to receive email notices of new posts, be sure to sign up on the new Mailing List here:

I am about to delete the old list.

You can always find this new sign-up link at the top of the sidebar.

The Curse of Cuteness . . .

I mentioned before that the blogs I love to read are those that talk about an aritst’s process – the thinking that goes into creating. I hope you find that kind of thing interesting too, because I am about to share some process with you.

Firstly, after 35 years of trying, I have managed to find a way to paint with water media on canvas. That is an exciting thing which I will revisit at another time.

Today I want to talk about cute.

Those who know me well, know that I struggle with cuteness in my “serious” art. In fact, I can’t seem to do much “serious” art because a touch of the Disney-esque always seems to get in there – even when I paint in a hyper realistic style (not the case here, obviously).

Somewhere along the line, I picked up the idea that there must be some angst in serious art. A famous quote I have never forgotten was in an essay by naturalist Donald Peattie:

“A poet should always be hungry or have a lost love.”

But I have never been a real starving artist, struggling to release the passions of my soul. At least, I don’t think I have. I have written a few folk songs about lost love, but I never created any paintings about it.

Art, for me, has always been pretty joyful. And those lost-love songs were actually pretty cute, come to think of it. One was about falling in love with a Ladybug (a MALE Ladybug – imagine the angst he must feel! Enough to create serious art, I bet.)

Anyway, back to the process thing. It’s weird how it goes back and forth. I have been wanting to do a blue door painting since I did the cover drawing for my

Creative Drawing Workbook . . .

which had a large cuteness factor.

So, I wanted to make the painting more serious, and also try out a new idea I had about adding a 3D element – a lock on the door. Therefore, the door in the painting has no knob.

As I am going along, a new title hits me – “The Door That Would Not Open”.

Now, there’s a serious title for you, right?

I have always loved titles. Like other Surrealists I admire, I think titles are a very important part of the artwork. (I am a registered Surrealist with the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco – at least I was back in the 80′s. My serious Surrealist paintings then were a lot more weird, but still had a cute factor!)

Anyway, I think Surrealists love titles because they either help explain what the heck is going on in the painting, or they add another level of strangeness. René Magritte gave titles to his paintings that had nothing at all to do with the subject, or actually opposed the subject – like “This Is Not A Pipe”, when surely it was.

Titles usually come to me somewhere in the process of painting. I have been known to shamelessly change the whole direction of a painting in honor of a good title.

And so I did.

I added an envelope on the porch step. Now, we have a whole new level of what it means that this door won’t open. Now, we’re getting serious.

But, the painting is done on a gallery canvas, so I continued around the edges just for fun . . .

Now, we have 3D – even though it is an illusion, and we are back to seriously cute.

So, what about that lock idea . . .

I would hang the key from a small hook I would screw into the bottom of the canvas.

Then, what would the title be? “High Hopes”, maybe?

Obviously, this version is happier (and cuter). It makes you wonder, but not TOO much. It has a future that might turn out a variety of ways. It could have a happy ending.

This would sell faster in the gallery (Mark’s contribution, although I would never let my ART be affected by such a thing, would I?)

“The Door That Would Not Open” is much darker, the future of the story is pretty much a foregone conclusion, and an opportunity has been missed.

It makes the  thing a whole lot more serious.

There is something about the depth of that which appeals to me.

So, here I sit, with hardware in hand, and can’t decide which way to go. If I attach  that lock and paint the canvas black behind  it, I am locked into that version. No going back.

I would love to have your opinion. I’m not saying I will go with the popular vote. I would just love to ponder your input.



Connecting the Dots . . .

There  have been many, many books written about creativity. Some recent ones advocate the throwing-things-at-paper-and-see-if-they-stick theory of awakening creative ideas, but most of the books I have read were written for the design industry, and took a more serious approach to the subject.

If you have never sat and torn your hair out for a logo idea at four in the morning, when you have the client presentation at nine, you have missed one of life’s more dubious pleasures. But suffice it to say, there are times when you have to understand where creative ideas come from, so you can force them to come.

OK, so you can’t force creative ideas to come, but you can set yourself up to invite them, ask them politely, and hope for the best.

The creative process is really about you making a previously unthought of connection between things that are not already connected in the way you just thought of.

Interpretation: One thing leads to another, and putting them together leads to new things.

This usually brings on a DUH! – V8 sort of head slap, and then the question: “WHY didn’t I think of this before? And why didn’t anybody else?” It is so obvious once you think of it.

So this is an example of that:

Thing One:

I just dredged the Sheer Heaven Travel Palette idea out of the archives and republished it.

Thing Two:

I have been painting flowers and trying to duplicate some colors in Nature. I often use Daniel Smith watercolors for this because they are earthy. They are so earthy in fact that the color charts on their site only vaguely resemble what is in their tubes.

So, awhile back, they came up with a very creative idea to sell sheets of paper containing little dots of their colors so people could test them.

Thing Three:

While buying tubes from their website, I saw that they had put the sheets on sale – drastically – and since I was disturbed that there was very little blue in the recent tubes of Blue Ochre and Sodalite I had purchased, I bought them. (Sorry – the sale ended as fast as it started.)

When they arrived, I have to say I was a bit disappointed that the dots were so small.

Thing Four:

Let’s see . . . Sheer Heaven Palette + I want bigger dots of Daniel Smith paint.

Right! Why not put dots of tube paint on a Sheer Heaven Palette instead of limiting that idea to watercolor crayons and pencils? You could carry more paint and more colors!

I tried it. I let the dots dry overnight, and it works just great . . .

You should let these dry before putting them away, but if that is not possible – cover them with another piece of Sheer Heaven – with the slick side down toward the paint. If any color sticks to the Sheer Heaven backside, it can be easily washed off with a damp paper towel.

Is this not luscious looking? It xplains why children eat paint and woman wear lipstick, doesn’t it?

New WHENEVER Workshop . . .

With the Holiday gift making season coming up, I have moved the Five Easy Pieces workshop to WHENEVER status. Turn your photos into gallery quality gifts with very little time and effort . . .

And I even reduced the tuition by 10%

Sheer Heaven Travel Palette

Back in the day – before Sheer Heaven became better known for making inkjet transfers than anything else – back in the Summer of 2004 in fact, I discovered that Sheer Heaven made a perfect watercolor palette for traveling.

I was not an art journaler yet. That would not come along until two years later. I was still in a state that many of you will be familiar with – collector of blank journals and frustrated to still be an artist journal wannabe.

I published an online magazine then and wrote an article about this amazing discovery.

Several folks have asked me recently to republish this information, so I dug up the photos and here we go . . .

Two things about Sheer Heaven make this idea work. Sheer Heaven is impervious to moisture, and it has a lot of tooth.

Therefore, you can pile up a deposit of watersoluble pigment on the good side of Sheer Heaven – using either watercolor pencils, or watercolor crayons, which deposit more pigment more quickly – and take your entire color collection with you inside your journal!

To use the palette, you just moisten the patch of color with your waterbrush to pick up the paint. Sheer Heaven will act just like a paint pan. It will not warp or tear with the moisture, will not soak up the color like paper would, and the Sheer Heaven tooth won’t allow the wet color to spread or run on the palette.

You can even put away your palette sheets wet. The back side of Sheer Heaven is absolutely smooth, so any wet color that offsets on the back of the sheet above will wipe right off with a damp paper towel.

You can create specific Palettes on separate sheets . . .

Maybe you have a certain set of colors you use for landscapes or people, or a coffee toned palette you use in coffee shops. Maybe you want to group all your reds, or blues, on one sheet. The beauty of this system is that you can use as many small sheets as you want, arrange colors however you want, and repeat colors on different sheets.

The palettes work perfectly for most color sketching you want to do.

You can refill the color spots . . .

When your color runs out, the tooth of the Sheer Heaven will still be there, so you just scribble on more color.

You can dilute and mix colors easily . . .

The smooth back side of each sheet is perfect for diluting or mixing your colors to your heart’s content. You could even carry an extra sheet (recycle a transfer leftover) just to use as a mixing palette.

Best of all, you can carry as many sheets as you want in a simple envelope in your journal – or they can be tucked in a pocket if your journal has one.

I made this envelope from Sheer Heaven (using an envelope template I found online) and painted the palette on front using the color from the sheets inside!

If you don’t have any Sheer Heaven, here is where you can find it:

NOTE: Transfer leftovers can be recycled into palettes, Just use the trimmings that still have the surface intact. Part of the Sheer Heaven tooth does transfer with an image. That is what holds the liquified image together during transfer, in fact. But, you can use the trimmings to make palettes, because the surface is still there.

NOTE to my Travel Journal students: Use a Blossom pocket to hold your palette.

Another Little Paintbox . . .

DH asked me the other day whether I liked making art or making art supply kits better. He has a point and I am not sure of the answer. There is something about “sets” of stuff that gets to me.

I got another Dick Blick catalog in the mail and they have a sale on a special paintbox from Schminke, my all time favorite watercolor brand. They are expensive. This was an 18 half pan set for less than the usual 12 half pan set. So I got all starry-eyed and started figuring out how I could afford it.

Thank heavens for that occasional voice of reason. It said “I think, if you go and find the scattered Schminke half pans you already own, you won’t need this new set.”

So I did, and I didn’t.

I already had 12 of the colors in that advertised set, and 14 more colors I had purchased individually.

Then the voice of reason, chuckling to itself with that told-you-so attitude, said that perhaps I should keep them together in one place. YIPPEE! A chance to make a new paint box!

This time I started with a box like this . . .

These are Opaque Watercolor Paints by Lukas. This same box is put out by Grumbacher as well, but they are more expensive and the cover is opaque. They are nice paints. Vivian Swift used the Grumbacher brand for all her small paintings in her book, When Wanders Cease to Roam, which I still think is one of the best art journals ever put together. And the price is down to a shocking $8 at Amazon (was $19.99)

Here is the best price I could find on the Lukas set at Amazon (actually shipped by Jerry’s Artorama):

Lukas Opaque Watercolors

So, I didn’t throw out these paints, of course. But they are double decker and I thought it would be better if I could see all 24 colors at once.

So, I put them in a colored pencil box I had emptied by putting the colored pencils in one of the Global Arts leather pencil cases.

You are starting to see why DH asked the question, right? But I know you fellow artists understand this kind of thing.

There. Now, I feel right about where the colored pencils are and where the opaque watercolors are, AND . . . I have an empty paintbox for my Schminke Half Pans (remember that was what started this all?)

I use that strong redline double stick tape to attach my Schminke half pans to the bottom of the box in two rows, and then add a third row of some pans I filled myself from some favorite Old Holland and Daniel Smith tube colors.

I made a color chart on 300lb watercolor paper cut to fit inside the box, and there is still room inside for three sizes of brushes and a plastic palette!

To pack it up, I put the palette over the paint (handy when the paint is wet) and the color chart on top of that. I even have room to put my waterbrush on top of that if I want (as you saw at the top of this post).

I just love this set because it is compact and comprised of just my favorite colors. And I now know where my Schminke watercolor pans are!


Your response to the Back to School Sale has been pretty amazing and that makes me happy. Many of you have asked for an extension, and because I have just managed to squeeze the Panpastel Workshop in under the wire (see the sidebar), I am extending the Sale through the Labor Day Weekend – through Monday, September 5.

To summarize for any newcomers, all my WHENEVER Workshops are 25% OFF through Monday. The discount will be taken in the Shopping Cart when you put Back to School in the Coupon Code box at checkout. If for any reason, that does not work, don’t worry, I will apply the discount before processing your charge.

Here is the Page of Whenever Workshops to choose from (or you can find them in the Sidebar of the blog).


Watercolor Wonderful . . .

Just as I was getting ready to test watercolor on the Super Deluxe Sketchbook, something happened which gave me the perfect subject . .

I was very sad about the bird, but very happy with the way the page handled the illustration. It was painted quite wet with pan watercolors and there was very little buckling even on the edge of the page. No more than you would expect with most watercolor notebooks.

Of all the art mediums, watercolor is the one that scares people the most. Other paints pretty much stay where you put them, but watercolor has a mind of its own. It co-paints with you, sometimes going with your plan and sometimes not.

Frustration comes (and I know that many of you have experienced watercolor frustration), when you are constantly surprised by what the paint chooses to do, because about half of what it does on its own looks pretty bad.

The key is to learn about the medium and its quirks, and then you have at least an idea what might happen – and how to avoid the undesirable possibilities.

You will never totally control watercolor, but you can at least lead the dance.

I have scheduled another session of my watercolor workshop, Drowning Your Inner Critic in Watercolor, for a start date of September 16.

This is a workshop in which feedback is given by me. Not mean stuff – just the reasons why this or that probably happened. We also learn some things about perspective and creating the illusion of a third dimension on two dimensional paper.

I was so pleased by the work done by students in the last session that I want to share a few samples. Feel free to praise them in Comments if you are so moved. All four of these folks said they really had no comfort with watercolor when they signed up for this workshop!

Here’s a surrealistic landscape by Jerrie Hall . . . brilliant in many ways

And here is a different style entirely – a floral painting by Tyanne Angle . . . which shows off the delicate transparency of watercolor.

E J (Winna) Mordasky is a wonderful artist anyway, but she wasn’t comfortable with watercolor – which all changed for her during the workshop . . .

And Linda Saltmarshe created one of the most inviting garden paths I have ever seen . . .

These are just a few of the wonderful pieces that were produced by the 24 students in the last session. And everyone enjoyed the sharing and support of other class members.

I don’t think I have ever met an artist or aspiring artist working in any media, who does not own a box of watercolors (at least one)! Nobody can resist those jewel-like little pans of color.

But, very few of these same folks ever use their box of watercolors because they tried a time or two and couldn’t figure out what to do with the mess they made. Most decided watercolor did not like them or something.

If you want to know what to do with your little box of watercolors, join us in September!

Signing Bonus . . .

Two of the first 12 students to sign up for this workshop session will win one of these workshop-appropriate prizes by random drawing:

Made by Hand Book, this, linen cover, hard-bound, beautiful watercolor journal has pages that lie flat and have the same texture on both sides (a rare thing in watercolor sketchbooks). Size is 10.5″ by 8.25″. Retail value os $30 (30 sheets/60 pages)


My favorite Robert Simmons Sapphire synthetic sable paint Brushes – both a #4 and  #6 (retail $22)

Hurry and sign-up and one of these two prizes can be yours!