watercolor simplified

Happy Valentines Day!

So many ways to celebrate Valentine’s Day! Eating fresh crab and chocolate cake with my honey tonight. And yesterday roaming Tomales Bay with sketch friends and finding the perfect spot for sitting in the sun and watching small town life, Marin County style.


fountain pen and watercolor in spiral bound Field Watercolor Journal, 8 X 8″

These two ladies were talking in that best-friends-overlapping-anticipating-interrupting way that women do, so I figured they might not notice i was sketching them, even though I sat down a mere ten feet in front of them. After all the scene was so sketchable, even without them. As I was setting up my stool the lady on the left looked right at me and called out “Hey Pam!”  I looked behind me and saw no one and realized she meant me. “I’m Susan” I said, and she looked again more closely and said, “you sure look like her” and turned to her friend and kept talking, while I started sketching her. She only made that gesture with her left hand once in her expressive, enthusiastic way and I did my best to capture it! Often you only get that one chance.

In this place everyone talks to everyone without the need for introduction, and soon we had observers asking about our sketches, sketch supplies, and talking about their art, and their friends’ art and more. Everyone here makes art in one form or another. Like the two ladies in the chairs, whose lives are filled with art (I was listening a bit though trying not to evesdrop!)

Next to them in an open area was a group of about seven ladies of all ages and a couple babies, sitting in the sun around a table and knitting. That would have been another great sketch opportunity we didn’t have time for. I don’t ask permission but I always show what I’ve done before I leave, and people don’t seem to mind and are generally delighted.

saloon  I’ve been sketching a lot of people lately and probably losing my touch with buildings, so I did a quick one of the building across the street. . .a real old fashioned saloon/hotel! But no one went in or out of it on this lovely Tuesday afternoon. Doesn’t it look forlorn sitting there without people?

That’s why I wanted to teach the next workshop, Put People in Your Sketches coming up March 24 at Railroad Square in Santa Rosa, CA. I’ve learned to either start or end with figures in a sketch to tell a bit more of the story. If you want to join me for this workshop visit my website for more details, but hurry, because there’s only one spot left at this point! Also check out the next one on May 5 in Sonoma, CA, Watercolor Simplified for the Sketcher.


Driving back along Tomales Bay in the late afternoon we stopped for two 10-15min. thumbnail landscapes. Putting the pen aside here and drawing with the brush. Great practice!


December Issue: Imagine with Art News

Sending holiday greetings here in a newsletter with articles about my post-firestorm reportage, sketch workshop news and more! Get your copy here.

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Watercolor Simplified Workshop

Yesterday I held the Watercolor Simplified for the Sketcher workshop in Petaluma, CA under sunny skies with lovely cool temperatures, and best of all, fresh air! We all seemed to shed the mantle of recent fire storm woes and enjoy dipping brushes into color in the excellent company of other artists.

In planning this workshop I was acutely aware that “watercolor simplified” is indeed a bit of an oxymoron. Watercolor technique is decidedly NOT simple as anyone who is even moderately proficient at it will tell you. But there are certain strategies one can learn to make it easier to capture a scene quickly,  with less fuss and more fun.


We started out in a park by the riverfront in Petaluma where there was a symphony of morning birdsong. The students all had good drawing skills but about the watercolor part they made comments like;  I want to get beyond painting by numbers. or I want to get more comfortable with sketching outside. or I want to learn how to punch up a sketch with watercolor. or I want to be freer with my painting.

So we practiced making decisions about what to leave white, painting quickly, dashing off a sky and ground shape with a wet application of at least two colors and a splash. And at lunch we took a wet-splash beginning and did a sketch on top of it.

petalumawkshop08It’s easier sometimes to start drawing on a page with some fun color already there. Instructions were to incorporate the under painting in the sketch design.


It helped that we had such good eats on Petaluma’s riverfront at the Water Street Bistro.


Phyllis’ hat was hard to resist. This is my sketch over a splatter-wash under painting.


The old Petaluma Mill was the perfect setting for the afternoon lesson which was the old One-Two-Punch method.

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(above from my handout)

Paint just the shadow shape first using interesting mixed grays. When that’s dry, come back in with the local color of the objects/buildings, exaggerating or inventing color if you want! The Punch is where you define the darkest areas like windows and deep shadows with your darkest pigments. This will often rescue a pretty but timid sketch.

petalumawkshop07There was not time in this busy workshop to sketch entire scenes, so the students focused in on gem-like parts of the scene.

petalumawkshop04and drew borders around the focal point to further simplify.


It was nice to have someone to sit with when sketching out in public. Different sketchers doing the same scene always makes for interesting variety. We get to see through each others’ eyes.


Petaluma is such an enticing location for sketching with a combination of riverfront, older architecture, bridge, railroad tracks, old mills and granaries, and even an abundance of ducks under the tracks! I’m looking forward to another day of sketching there soon.

This was my last sketch workshop of the season, but there are more ideas formulating for new workshops in the series next year, so stay tuned! And let me know what you’re interested in.

Color Mixing

I have another on-location sketch workshop coming up October 14, Watercolor Simplified for the Sketcher! In preparation I got to thinking about all the obstacles to painting with watercolor on location and worrying a bit about this promise of “simplifying” it. From experience teaching these day-long workshops I know that some students will open up a freshly bought and previously unused palette on the day of the workshop. Many of us know this is a recipe at least temporary dismay!

So I’m asking all the students to make a color mix chart with their paints before class. I’ve done quite a few of these over the years and there’s no better way to get acquainted with your palette while learning the subtleties of mixes. You learn how to make black and gray and brown without having them in your palette to muddy things up. (Of course palettes with manufacturer supplied pigments may have those colors in them and then you can choose not to use them!)


Simply put, you mix each pigment on your palette with each of the other pigments. This chart helps. I picked the eight pigments I would have most difficulty parting with at the moment and made a grid of eight squares. Then I painted squares of those colors across and down in the same order. Next I mixed the colors of each square according to the grid, the vertical with the horizontal. It takes focus, and there’s some value variation based on how much water gets in the mixture and the amount of each pigment in the mix. (The camera has distorted the colors here a bit, but you hopefully get the idea. )

And now I know how to mix an olive green and a brick red and the prettiest violet and deepest forest green, and a purply dark and a mauve. And by doing this I also know which pigments are so intense that they overwhelm the others, and which ones will never give me a dark. I’ve been painting for 23 years and I still learned something from doing this today.

I actually have more paints on my palette, a couple more blues (DS Cerulean Blue Chromium and HB Horizon Blue) and an orange ((DS Pyrrol Orange) that I wouldn’t want to part with. But I think I’ll jetison the Payne’s Gray and Ivory Black. We sketchers just can’t stop futzing with palette colors. It’s too much fun.

So now back to figuring out how to live up to the promise of Watercolor Simplified! Email me if you want to sign up for the workshop. There are still two spots left at this writing.

Announcing: New Workshops and Newsletter!

The Imagine With Art Newsletter is now in its 65th issue and I’m happy to offer it to you here. This issue features new workshops for the fall, some Urban Sketcher Symposium news and an Art Play lesson: Powdered Graphite. Hope you’ll take a look!

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And join me for the latest in a series of on location sketching workshops!

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For more information and to register, please email me.