Watercolor, Words, and Wanderings

Glazing is a process that artists use for many reasons. It can be used to unite, neutralize, and intensify. It is a technique successfully employed in acrylic, oil, and watercolor painting. Glazing occurs when a transparent wash is put over an already painted area. In watercolor the paint below ought to be dry, even then if you “lick the paint”, meaning go over it repeatedly, you will find the under painting mixing in with the glaze. The most successful glazes are put down and left alone to dry- you can glaze again and again, if the paint is bone dry, and be successful.

If you glaze with the same hue you can get the most vibrant glowing colors. You can see in this painting on the right, I have started with an orangish background and each time I glazed, painted a thin wash of the red over the sky, I left a little bit peeking out around the sun from the last glaze. This allows you to really see the steps. BTW- I happen to LOVE this painting!

If you glaze over an area that might be a little busy or confused, you can unite it, as I have done here in the sky on this painting of Rosa Rugosa. The work from below still shows through, but the glazing will unify the piece. Be sure to use a thin, thin, wash.( I was a little heavy handed here.) You can always go back over it when it is  dry, but if you use paint that is too thick or saturated it cannot be undone. I often will paint the under color on a scrap piece of paper and dry it and then test the glaze first, before applying it to my painting.

If you have painted an area that is just TOO much- maybe you used too bold a color, or it is competing with your focal point and you want to tone it down – you can use a glaze to tone the color down and keep the vibrancy. If you do this while the page is wet, you risk dulling colors. The more brush strokes on the page, especially when the page is wet, the more the fibers unravel. This seemingly unnoticeable, fuzzy surface texture pushes the paint deeper into the page and the result is duller colors. Below I laid down the large swatch of yellow and the two smaller purple and orange squares and I let them dry totally. Then I glazed the same color purple and orange over the yellow. You can see how the purple tones the yellow down and how the orange is a more intense hue. You can also see how I “licked the paint” with the purple and dragged some of the yellow up into the purple. This also tell us that this yellow is not a very staining color.

You might be thinking…Why not just get the color right the first time? Getting it “right” the first time does not always happen. Using this process can make for more intense vibrant colors, as in the bear painting above, than if you were to just use one layer of the “correct” color. According to Vibrant- Art.com, glazing will give you colors with a luminosity, richness, and depth you cannot get by mixing colors. This is because light travels through all the transparent layers (glazes), and bounces off the page, and reflects to the viewer differently than mixed paint on the page. Our eyes mix the layers of color to ‘see’ the final color, giving a luminosity you do not get with a layer of physically mixed paint color. Pretty cool stuff- Huh?

Watercolor, Words and Wanderings

Are you an autodidact? Can you set your mind to learning something and figure it out? Do you have skills in a subject and have no formal education? Then you may be an autodidact. Vincent Van Gogh, Frida Kahlo, and Paul Gaugin are among some of the famous artist who are often listed as autodidactic. I came across this word last week and I had never heard it before. I thought it might be fun to look at some of their art work.

Sorrowing Old Man-Van Gogh

Vincent hung out with some artist that are now considered monstrous, heavy hitters like Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec , Camille Pissarro and painted in an era when he may well have chatted about art over a “cuppa” with Paul Cézanne and for sure paid a visit to  Georges Seurat  at his studio. He and Paul Gaugin were steadfast friends, mostly, or maybe even more. Gaugin had to break ties due to the ever present and increasing insanity that Van Gogh was suffering. Check out this painting “Sorrowing Old Man” painted in 1890. What can I say? The emotions are just oozing out of this painting. I wonder if he had been able to tolerate “proper” schooling would he have been able to emote with his brush like this? I ask you to take a hard look at his work- it is not drawn perfectly, the compositions violate all kinds of rules and yet…

The Two Fridas- Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo’s art came to represent many things for “La Gente” and people who are  LGBTQIA+. Unlike Van Gogh, Kahlo had achieved success as an artist in her lifetime, although her posthumous reputation steadily grew from the 1970s and reached what some critics called “Fridamania” by the 21st century. She is perhaps one of the best-known artists of the 20th century. Looking at the body of her work I just cannot help but wonder what formal art training would have done to Frida? She was criticized as being a primitive artist. I am sure art school would have wiped that right out of her and what a shame that would have been. Again, look at the emotions exuding from this painting. “The Two Fridas” done in 1939, Like Van Gogh, she does not have the drawing exactly correct and if she did would the painting have the sense of immediacy that it now has? The two Frida’s hardly sit in the picture frame; they seem to be almost standing and look ready to leap into our world.

Maternite’ II- Paul Gauguin

Paul Gauguin also had some well-known art friends. Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso and he became known for his experimental use of color and style. Looking at his work and we see a similar theme. His work is so unique. The simplification of the spatial planes with color is masterful. This painting is titled “Maternité II”, and was painted in 1899. The tension between the 3 figures makes it very hard to stop looking- what is going on here? It seems as though someone outside of the painting has asked for the mother in blue’s attention.

I am not saying that schooling takes all the heart out of art. I am grateful for most of the teaching I have had. Today I can draw mostly whatever I want to. I do not believe that I would have pushed myself to draw if it had not been focused on in classes. We just looked at 3 talented artist whose drawing skills seem to take a back seat to the feeling, gesture and/or intensity of the scene. Certainly, we cannot judge an artist from looking at one painting but what I think we can say is that being an artist who is also an autodidact seems to be a good fit.   

I found some of my own work from almost 40 years ago. I wonder what Frida, Vincent and Paul were doing for art when they were in their late teen’s but that is blog for another day!

Watercolor, Words and Wanderings

Last week, I promised to discuss more fully the properties of watercolor paint: 

  • staining VS non-staining/lifting
  • opaque VS transparent 
  • granulating VS non-granulating

All watercolor paints fall on a continuum for each of these 3 categories. Paints differ slightly by manufacturer and will behave differently on different paper. The definitions of the above terms are mostly straight forward. 

Rockefeller’s View was mostly painted with colors that lift well. The French Ultramarine blue is granulating at the top and less so on the bottom (that has to do with paint/water ratio) and the foliage at the bottom is very opaque.

A staining paint attaches to the paper fully and once it is dry it is hard to lift. Lifting is a process whereby you wet an area and either with your brush or a paper towel you dab up the paint. Lifting is often done to make corrections or when the artist wants to lift off highlights. If you have picked a staining color you may find yourself in trouble. Staining paint will usually lift some, but never back to anything close to the white of the paper. Staining colors, again, once dry, are good to use if you are going over the area more than once, as they are less likely to mix into the fresh paint. 

Most opaque colors can be watered down to the point where they are basically transparent. On the other hand, it is hard to get a transparent color to be opaque. If you use watercolor right out of the tube without mixing it with water, the result is often a thick, sticky spot that will never dry and is one of the few times we can say “ERROR” in watercolor. Once you mix an opaque color into a transparent color you have got yourself on the continuum of opacity and there is no going back to transparency. As an aside, gouaches are considered opaque watercolors.

Colors that are more granulating are colors where the pigment particles in the paint solution fall out quicker than the non- granulating pigment colors. This is a watercolor “thing” and is hard to get in any other medium. Many artists use textured paper (called cold press and/or rough) to capture this granulation into their paintings. The heavier bits fall into the valleys on the paper. 

At this point you might be thinking? What is the difference between a non- granulating and a transparent color? Those two characteristics are often found together. Check out the diagrams below. These diagrams cover the majority of situations.

Now you want to know which colors have which characteristics? Luckily, most manufacturers have a resource to tell you, however, when the rubber hits the road, you need to have this stuff memorized and the best way to do that is to paint. There is no magic formula for painting, just practice and be open to constructive criticism. I hope this helps and I will cover specific colors in future blogs! Have a good week-

Watercolor, Words and Wanderings

Salt- I no longer shake it on my food but it sure makes for some fun starts to my paintings. When I mention using salt, to my classes, along comes the proverbial question “When do we put the salt on Miss Becky? ” To which I reply at just the right time! Applying salt to watercolor is not rocket science but it is science. Salt absorbs the water and then releases it at a different rate than the other non-salted paint dries and this makes a water mark. A watermark occurs when two wet areas touch that are different levels of wet. Water seeks its own level so the wetter part “invades” the drier part. The pigment is carried by the water to the edges of the wet. After consulting my brother, who is a science guy, we came to the conclusion that the reasons for this are too complicated. He found an article on LiveScience.com by Clara Moskowitz. She writes about coffee stains, which is similar to watercolor, ” As a drop of coffee dries, liquid evaporates more efficiently from the drop’s thinner edges. Liquid in the middle then flows outward to replenish the edges, carrying the suspended solids with it.”( See link below) So basically, once again, water seeks its own level and carries the paint with it!

The time to add the salt is when the paint is wet but not too wet. If you are using table salt, you will know you hit the sweet spot when you sprinkle it on the painting and the salt turns dark. If you add it too soon, the water just absorbs it and if you add it too late, the salt just sits on the top like sprinkles added to an already old frosted cupcake. If you choose to use ” BIG” salt chunks these can be added when the paint is a little bit wetter.

In addition to timing, another thing that can affect the outcome is that different colors of paint behave differently. I know, talk about stating the obvious, but I am not talking about red VS blue. I am talking about a deeper classification that is crucial to studying watercolor. To quote Judge John Hodgeman, THE fake internet judge, it is “the crux of the matter”. A serious watercolor student can spend years learning about the following properties: staining VS non-staining, transparent VS opaque, and granulating VS non-granulating. The short version, is that different colors mix with water and sit on top of different paper, differently. This difference results in some colors making really spectacular salt “watermarks” and others colors can just be kind of meh. For the long version- take my class 😉 and stay following this blog as we will discuss this more in future blogs. I better make a note so I do not forget!

When applied at the correct time salt seems to magically chase away the pigment, and now you know how. This creates some really interesting textures and depending on the kind and size of salt that you use you can get different textures. I like to use these salted watermark areas as a jumping off point. I look at the salted piece until I start to see something emerging. Carvers talk about this, letting the marble or wood decide what is inside it. Then they “simply” 😉 try to bring it out. These paintings were started with table salt and you can really see the texture on the spheres.


Watercolor, Words and Wanderings

Still Life on the Side Porchremembering some last moments with Dad

I rolled you out into the sunshine and wordlessly a lifetime of knowledge passed between us. Your sadness begging me to live my life to the fullest and me wavering between a life of needing security and following my artistic calling. A flick of your wrist and a pleading hand plane signaled to me to let you roll off the porch and down the stairs and into your next life. Me, wondering who will have my back when I need to be rolled out into the sunshine? You smiling, letting me know that there are somethings we just cannot know, and to be OK with that and trust that all will unfold as it should. Us- A still life on the side porch, birds twittering. It was only a moment and a treasure I will not soon forget. I thought it might be the last time the sun shone on our faces. We stayed as long as we could but soon you were hoping to drive the car and so we rolled back into the kitchen, car out of sight and off your mind.

Watercolor, Words and Wanderings

The letters CSA typically stand for Community Supported Agriculture. I have purchased a share from a local farm in the past and every week for 12 weeks I received a box of fresh food. This is a great way to support the farm and it “forced” me to try new foods. The Newport Library Arts Center (LAC), in Newport, New Hampshire is turning this acronym on its head and offering Art instead. Community Supported Art. What an exciting idea! They asked 5 artists to create 50 pieces of art and then put 50 shares up for sale. This means that if you bought a share you would receive an original piece of art each month for 5 monthes. They decided to ask the artists to size their work to 4″ x 4″ since this is an available size of a wooden paint panel, and this also means the art can be shipped at a reasonable cost. Artists can then either do their thing directly on the panel or, like me, have the art glued to the substrate. Share holders receive an original piece of art ready to display. Here are a few examples of my work for this project.

I need to give a shout out to the LAC. They are an amazing organization and I feel so lucky to be involved with them. Their mission is to make more art and develop community around art. They offered this CSA at cost and will pay the artist $10.00 for each panel. What a great way to get our art into people’s hands and to make a couple of bucks too. The project was so well received they were able to open it up to 5 more artists and they sold out the second round in just over a week. I hope the people who get my art might find a new artist to enjoy, similar to when I found new foods that I liked in my farm CSA.

Watercolor, Words and Wanderings

Can thinking about doing something increase your ability to actually do that something? The other day I was driving around, taking in the beauty and, as I often do, I was imagining how I would paint this view or that view. What color would I use to render the light on that house or how would I paint those distant hills? I love doing this but I wonder does it actually help me be a better painter? When I was in college I had a ceramics professor who said that thinking about throwing pots was almost as good as actually sitting at the pottery wheel doing the work. All these years later her words are still rattling around in my head- so I thought I should do some of my own research into this.

It would seem to make sense that the parts of making art related to thought could be improved upon by thinking about them. The thinking part for a watercolorist might be something like what is the shape of that tree and how do I make that color? The action part of painting involves things like developing hand to eye coordination. Another example concerns how this particular brush interacts with this color of paint and on this certain kind of paper. According to Science Daily, radiologists were able to increase their identification skills by repeatedly visualizing anomalies, but can a surgeon get better by imagining they are operating? Can I imagine painting a straight line and get better at painting straight lines? According to Dr. Narineh Hartoonian, who is a Clinical Health and Rehabilitation Psychologist at the Rowan Center for Behavioral Medicine, “Visualization allows us to rehearse our anticipated movements and over time primes our brain and body to more accurately and effectively execute an action. This occurs by stimulating a component of the basal ganglion, the putamen (part of the striatum), a region of the brain that is involved in the rehearsal of movement. Over the course of rehearsing movements via visualization, the brain learns routine movement, making the movement more programmed and fine-tuned.” At Popsci.com they report that, yes, athletes can get better at things like hitting a ball with the caveat that it doesn’t work for everyone. “If you’re a novice, the impact can be negative,” warns Tadhg MacIntyre, a sports psychologist at the University of Limerick in Ireland. “If you’re trying to visualize a free throw, and you don’t even know the proper handgrip and movement, then you’re probably going to mentally rehearse the wrong skill, and your skill is going to be impaired.” I know from my personal experience that handling the brush has changed as I get better at painting. I also think this is a skill I could not have imagined UNTIL I practiced enough to know the feeling. I put the links to the websites below if you want to follow me down this rabbit hole. It sure looks like thinking is almost as good as doing- soon my computer will probably be able to read my mind and I will be able to actually create art by just thinking about it- for now I will keep daydreaming because I cannot help it and now I can be pretty sure it is actually helping me be a better painter too!

The above painting is a watercolor that was started on site and finished in my studio. The title is Peonies with Odanaksis for more info check out the florals page on my website- www.rsbense.com




Watercolor Words and Wanderings

There is a large lilac bush at my parent’s which has been there my whole life. It is the old-fashioned variety and when it blooms it perfumes the whole yard. I love the smell of this flower. It takes me back to my childhood. I was lucky to have a stable family. We had food in the fridge and clean clothes to wear to school. On weekends and holidays I could search for critters in the pond, ride my bike around the hood or go fishing down the street. I did not have a clue how much work it took to provide me with this childhood. I felt safe and secure. I had no idea that having dinner every night was a blessing. I now know my parents worked hard to take care of my brother and me. What does all this have to do with the lilac? (Despite the light and heady scents that waft off when it is in bloom, that can remind us of the easy living of a naïve childhood, the lilac is a symbol of hard work and grit.) It is the New Hampshire state flower and it comes up year, after year, decade, after decade with very little care. Parents everywhere are determined to give their children the best life they can but, unlike the lilac bush, children need tending. Winters are hard, especially this year. A simple thing, many of us can do, is to make a cash donation to our local food bank. This goes a long way to help parents give their children the stable childhood the need to bloom into thoughtful, caring and productive citizens.

Here is a link to help you find your local food bank


Watercolor Words and Wanderings

Digitalis Purpurea- otherwise know as Foxglove. This plants blooms bi-annually and if you decide to grow it learn to recognize the greenery so you so not accidentally mow it. If you put it in a spot where it is happy it will reseed itself and bloom for years to come. It likes to grow in a place that get filtered sun (this I know from personal experience) and has acidic soil (this is according to Wikipedia). I first took an interest in this flower because my grand mother took a heart medicine called digitalis and she told me that is was derived from this plant. She also said the plant was poisonous. At the time, I did not really understand this juxtaposition of good and bad and this made Foxglove a memorable and mysterious plant for me.

Foxgloves in South Sutton

This painting was started in South Sutton, NH. My walking buddy and I noticed this quaint little garden and I boldly asked if I might stand in a strangers front yard and paint these beauties. Sutton is the kind of town where people might say yes to this kind of thing. A place where folks still know their neighbors. It has an old fashioned green space or common. In the warmer months people gather here to play lawn games, frisbee and BBQ. I spent a couple of years watching children afterschool in this hood. There is a really nice walk along a dirt road called The Meeting House Road. Keep the meeting house on your left, you will pass an old cemetery on your right. Take a slight right after the cemetery and keep walking and you can explore some class 6 roads. For those of you from away- a class 6 road is an old dirt road that the town no longer maintains. Usually a class 6 road also means that a car is no longer able to drive on this road. They are great for cross country skiing, mountain biking, snow shoeing and walking. Just be aware of the occasional off road vehicle or snow machine! One morning was not enough to finish exploring this area. We counted over 100 orange newts on our stroll- and be sure to bring bug spray as the mosquitoes are thick! Enough about the wanderings- back to the painting. I did most of this painting in my studio. When I went to look up the scientific name for Foxglove-I noticed I had not rendered the leaves very accurately. Oh- that darn old drawing thing- came back to bite me again! There is always the next time!

Watercolor Words and Wanderings

One definition of commission means to give an order for the production of something. Commission is a word often used when someone wants a particular work of art done. It occurred to me today that omission is pretty much contained in the word commission. I wondered if that was why every time someone says “I would like you to paint an X, Y or Z for me.” I freeze- no “co”, no “com” and NO do. There is lots of thinking about how I would do the work followed by more thinking about why I cannot do the work. Most of the time I could have the work done with the amount of time I spent omitting the doing. Lately I have been painting quite a bit (thank you to the art gods) and this sparked a couple of friends to ask me to create a watercolor painting similar to one I had already made. One person needed it smaller and one needed it tweaked a little into a yin -yang. I do not know what came over me but I said yes. I have been very isolated during the pandemic and all I can think is the “com” part, the together part, the community part took over my brain. Once, in 2014, I started and finished a commission. ONCE. I have 2 paintings that are actually SOLD if I could only get to the “com” part and com-plete them. They are maybe 2 or 3 hours from being done. Writing this reminds me that I also owe another person a painting of a photo they submitted for a “mini contest” I ran on my Face Book page. I was looking to get some photos to use for ideas for paintings. I have started that one at least 3 times. Seriously it is a problem for me. Not that people are clamoring for me to do commissions but it would mean an additional 5 or 6 hundred bucks in the bank. That is something called, in the words of Martha Stewart, a good thing. The fish painting below represents a huge break through for me- they are almost finished and I am so excited. I hope they meet my clients expectations and even if they do not, I am thrilled to be able to report the “comm”- ing of a commission has occurred! Here’s hoping this is an end to the omission of commissions. The dog below is my first commission circa and if you are the person I promised that won the contest- know that I have not forgotten I. O.U !

Commission for Paul – 2014